Well it certainly has been a while since I wrote anything for the blog. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I guess I have been going through a case of the “pastoral dumps”. “Pastoral dumps” being a kind of depression where one does what is required and not anything beyond. I have more or less aroused from those ashes and I was amazed at how God had a hand in it. I will write more about that later.
The second reason I have not written is because I have been over whelmed with this election cycle. I have found there are things that I have wanted to say and respond to, but I honestly believe that as a Pastor, I couldn’t for fear it would look and sound like I was supporting one candidate or another.
Yet, this election cycle is historical, and we are behaving like a people caught up in a moment of dramatic change. That is to say, things are being said and done that go beyond every day politics, the level of sexism, racism, homophobia, nationalism are at a boiling point, all because change is coming regardless who wins this election.
We in a few days for the first time in our history as a country may elect a women Vice-president of the United States. We may elect a black man as President of the United States. I never in my wildest dreams thought this possible in my lifetime. Of course, I also did not believe for a second that before I left this earth there would be 3 states and more to come who would say the sexual orientation of a couple has nothing to do with the State recognizing a marriage!
I have been an un-apologetic activist for a long time. So when the religious and political right started hammering on Senator Barak Obama’s pastor, I was appalled. First, it gave a clear signal the folks doing the hammering had no clue as to what black church is all about. 2nd, it showed they had no concern whatsoever of quoting fully, accurately or in context. 3rd, I went and listen to the sermon from the beginning to the end of the Pastor in question and I will tell you in 22 plus years of ministry I have either said, thought or supported most if not all of his points. So, news flash to those in my congregation: Don’t run for political office unless you want to be blamed for what I have said. However, it should be noted, I am white and queer so it probably won’t matter. If you can’t see the racism in this then you are not paying attention. Angry black preacher equals “danger”. White queer preacher equals “no one pays attention”.
I was equally appalled by the most recent controversy surrounding Governor Palin and her shopping for cloths. Let’s get real folks this is sexism at its worst…has anybody gotten bent out shape over Obama’s suits, or McCain’s shoes or how many houses he owns? Oh yea there has been a passing joke because he can’t remember the exact number. So of course not, because men in this country can dress anyway they want to and women are to dress according to men’s expectations. Men are supposed to own more property then they know what to do with…the more the better, the bigger the better.
See this is why I haven’t written in a long while. The previous examples are just small potatoes compared to what has gone on for the last year and a half.
I got caught up in the fear, anxiety and anticipation being played out on November 4th, the United States of America is going to change in a way that no one alive today has ever experienced. One would have to go all the way back to the day 13 colonies said enough was enough. I do not think I am overstating what is about to happen.
So as a Pastor I think I need to say something pastoral, something that will give comfort and peace to folks as they cast a ballot that will literally change the course of this country. I was stuck, how to say anything without getting caught in the rhetoric of the political parties, how to teach without exposing my own personal thoughts, preferences and leanings toward one candidate or another. How not to vomit over the ignorance that is so brazenly being thrown around dressed in theological drag.
Then I got a weekly e-mail from Sojourners magazine. This is a weekly e-mail of spirituality, politics and culture. Jim Wallis, who is the editor and is the author of a book called “The Great Awakening”and is very keyed in on the pastoral response to this election. I have to tell you he put on the screen what I wanted to say but apparently am not gifted enough to come up with on my own. Yet, this is what I hope each of my readers would let sink in during this historic time in America. So here with his permission is the article of pastoral advice he has offered. Not that it matters to him, but I give a loud and excited amen to his article and pastoral words. Read closely and prayerfully and when you are done come November 4th if you do nothing else that day VOTE.
My Personal 'Faith Priorities' for this Election
In 2004, several conservative Catholic bishops and a few megachurch pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of "non-negotiables," which were intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All of them were relatively the same list of issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them even included the word "poverty," only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of "non-negotiables." The political connections and commitments of the religious non-negotiable writers were quite clear.
I want to suggest a different approach this year and share my personal list of "faith priorities" that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year — and suggest that each of you come up with your own list of "faith" or "moral" priorities for this election year and take them into the voting booth with you.
After the last election, I wrote a book titled God’s Politics. I was criticized by some for presuming to speak for God, but that wasn’t the point. I was trying to explore what issues might be closest to the heart of God and how they may be quite different from what many strident religious voices were then saying. I was also saying that "God’s Politics" will often turn our partisan politics upside down, transcend our ideological categories of Left and Right, and challenge the core values and priorities of our political culture. I was also trying to say that there is certainly no easy jump from God’s politics to either the Republicans or Democrats. God is neither. In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith, and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith. Therefore, people of faith, and all of us, should be "values voters" but vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another.
In 2008, the kingdom of God is not on the ballot in any of the 50 states as far as I can see. So we can’t vote for that this year. But there are important choices in this year’s election — very important choices — which will dramatically impact what many in the religious community and outside of it call "the common good," and the outcome could be very important, perhaps even more so than in many recent electoral contests.
I am in no position to tell anyone what is "non-negotiable," and neither is any bishop or megachurch pastor, but let me tell you the "faith priorities" and values I will be voting on this year:
1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.
2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having "their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid," as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.
3. "Choosing life" is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and "pro-choice" and "pro-life" mantras from either side.
4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault, and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new "green" economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.
5. Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to "welcome the stranger."
6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life, and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a "countercultural activity" in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.
That is my list of personal "faith priorities" for the election year of 2008, but they are not "non-negotiables" for anyone else. It’s time for each of us to make up our own list in these next 12 days. Make your list and send this on to your friends and family members, inviting them to do the same thing.
I would only add a number 7, which is to say for me I will look for leadership that understands GLBTQ not as moral alphabet soup from which political hay can be made. But rather GLBTQ are Americans who desire to live in a land where the words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all … are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
are a way of life not a far off vision.
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.