Monday, October 8, 2012

Right Religious

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1.27)

In the month preceding the US elections, Straight-Friendly will offer brief reflections on what God requires of us, in hopes that we can enter the polls fully confident that our candidates of choice will promote policies that align with our personal convictions. Nothing here should be misconstrued as an endorsement of one candidate over another. It is simply meant to remind us of our responsibilities as faithful believers and citizens.

Every time we vote we make a vow, a personal pledge to care for our nation and its people. Every election presents us with a sacred moment, when we’re deeded the opportunity to look beyond ourselves—our immediate needs and long-held dreams—so that we can consider the needs and desires of others. Voting is the ultimate expression of community, a concept that we, as people of faith, inherently understand. And we know how community works because Jesus taught us a new way of building one. Community building (a concept that, sadly, has been ridiculed by many religious) reverses human “me-first” logic: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” Jesus says in Mark 9.35. So, as Christians, we enter the voting booth at the end of a very long line of people we must serve. Their needs come first, their dreams above our own.

In case we’re unsure who these first-comers and preferred dreamers are, James spells it out. They are “widows and orphans in their distress”—the bereaved and abandoned, the easily blamed, readily overlooked social and economic casualties among us who are struggling to survive. And we should be very clear: they are not the lay-abouts and system-abusers that so many paint them to be. (We’ll discuss the indolent and parasites in a future post.) The people James calls us to care for are genuinely in distress due to misfortune. They are the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the disowned, and the defeated—the ones who inevitably find themselves at the end of the line. It is our duty as Christ’s followers to interrupt the social order and put them first, giving them our place and taking theirs. The world doesn’t see it that way, of course. But we we seek a higher plane that lifts us above the world’s ways. Right religion begins with honoring Christ’s community-building principle. Anything less stains us with the ugly sinfulness of a faithless world.

Every vote is a vow—to God, our nation, and every citizen in distress—a promise to care for all in need. Every election is a sacred right to live out the teachings of our Savior and advance God’s kingdom in very real and tangible ways.

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