For those who may not be aware, this past Tuesday our library was once again converted into a polling site for the Onondaga Board of Elections. For nine hours, dedicated volunteers waited patiently for those who were interested in casting their vote for the Republican candidate they most wanted to see run against Senator Gillibrand this fall. As you can imagine, we were not inundated with a lot of voters. I joked with Sharon Hoare that they were having quite a run when four people showed up to vote at one time.
Last Tuesday’s primary will be a sharp contrast to this November when once again the presidency will be up for grabs. And, now that we know who the candidates for election will be, it seems only appropriate to begin discerning who we, as individuals, will be choosing this November.
This is not to assume that it is my place or the Episcopal Church’s place to tell you who to vote for this fall or what position members of the Episcopal Church should take on the issues. Instead, it is the role of the church to teach and provide the theological framework through which to weigh your decision in the coming months.
Sadly, it is hard to find an example of who to emulate in today’s political arena. Long past are the days of Jimmy Carter, a man who truly tied to lead and govern this country based on the teachings of Christ. Today, it seems that politics is no longer guided by what is best for the country, but by party ideology, or by whatever will make the most people happy in the short run. Last Wednesday, as Maureen and I were discussing the upcoming Supreme Court decision in regards to the affordable healthcare act, we both lamented that our system of governance seems to be broken.
Needless to say, we were both pleasantly surprised by this week’s decision. Yes, I was pleased with the decision. More importantly, however, I was thrilled by the fact that Chief Justice Roberts restored integrity to the court by breaking with party politics. In his long and what sounds to be a highly nuanced argument, the chief justice made it clear that his decision was not based on whether he agreed or disagreed with the law, or even if he felt the law was a good one, but whether or not it is constitutional. The chief justice’s position is consistent with his understanding of the Supreme Court’s role as constitutional umpire in the nation’s legal discourse, and to render opinions accordingly. I applaud the chief justice’s decision to live into his words and pray the other eight justices will follow his lead in the future.
Like the Chief Justice, as Christians, we are called to discern our decisions in regards to public policy and in relation to those we vote for, not based on what we feel will serve us best as individuals but who we believe will guide our country towards becoming the kingdom that Christ envisioned. We are called to select individuals who we feel will guide public policy within the purview of how we understand our vows of Baptism. In essence, we are called to vote for individuals who will uphold laws that serve Christ in all persons and seek justice and peace among all people.
In today’s reading from Second Corinthians, Paul touches on the subject of justice when asking the congregation in Corinth to give alms to the Church in Jerusalem. Based on how Paul leads into the question, it is clear what he is asking the congregation to do is not popular. The request is unpopular for many reasons. First and foremost, as we know from the Book of Acts, the Corinthian congregation is a gentile congregation. In the early years of the Church, the Jewish congregation of Jerusalem did not welcome the gentiles into the Church with open arms . They felt in order to become part of the Christian fold, one had to become Jewish first. This often meant following the dietary laws as well as the physical laws of Torah, this made it very difficult for Gentile converts to become full members of the church.
The other issue that separated the Corinthian congregation from the congregation in Jerusalem was wealth and privilege. Since the Jerusalem congregation was largely Jewish, it was a poor congregation filled with members of low social standing. Very few Jews had the privileges of Roman citizenship and Rome was always looking for new ways to tax the population. The Corinthian Church, was wealthy, and possibly enjoyed the privileges of Roman citizenship. Paul uses this disparity of wealth as an opportunity to help unite the congregations. The Jerusalem congregation had the advantage of tradition and knowledge while the Corinthian congregation had the wealth necessary to spread the Good News throughout the known world.
Paul’s plea for financial support to the poorer congregations already had precedent. In Acts, Luke describes the earliest of Christian communities as communities where all lands and homes were sold and the funds held in common, used to provide for and support each other. In his argument to the Corinthians, Paul does not venture quite so far as to ask members to share all they have. Instead, he introduces the concept of “fair balance” in which he invites the congregation to move their giving to a point where “those who have abundance do not have too much, and those who have little do not have too little. ”
There is no doubt, serving justice is rarely easy and for many of us it come with a cost at a time when most of us feel we don’t have enough. But let’s take a moment and look beyond ourselves and this community. As recovery from the recession continues to move slowly, over one in ten people continue to be unemployed. One in two recent college graduates are either under-employed or unemployed. Approximately 50,000,000 people in this country have no access to health insurance either due to job loss or pre-existing conditions. Yes, like the Corinthians, it may cost us in order for the greater good to be served. And I, like many of you, do not mind paying the price if I know my money will be spent wisely and not abused unfairly by the recipients.
As we discern who our candidate will be, we should insist they answer first and foremost what they believe are the components of a just society and then ask how this compares to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
The Millennial Development Goals recognize that the building blocks of justice do not begin with entitlements but with access to basic human services which include access to basic, preventive health care, primary education, and nutrition. My question to the candidates is how will they assure that all members of our society will have access to these items while maintaining a fair and equitable system of taxation.
Finally, as a people who strive for peace, we need to know how our candidates understand the role of our military in the world. Last year, Jim Wallace the editor of Sojourners Magazine, a periodical that describes itself as the journal for liberal Christianity, stated what the United States spends on defense is equal to fifty per-cent of the world’s defense spending. This means that our defense spending is equal to the sum of the defense spending of every other country in the world.
The statistic is startling, but what Mr. Wallis failed to discuss in his editorial is how little of our defense spending is used for military force. A few years ago, Bob Hall pointed out that most of the military’s time is spent on peace keeping efforts. Efforts that include developing police forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the development and redevelopment of infrastructure that provide communities with clean water, sewage treatment, passable roads and, yes, education. And, in times of natural crisis, the delivery of clean water, food, and medical supplies and medical services.
There is no doubt, come November, as a country we have a major decision to make. And like the Chief Justice, the decisions we make must be based on who we feel will move this country closer to the vision of the kingdom that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel. As your priest and rector, I ask each of you to seriously consider your baptismal vows as you decide which candidates to vote for. For like the Corinthians, we too excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for each other. So why wouldn’t we want to excel in this generous undertaking as well?