Its been rattling around inside my head to talk about the idea of civic duty, and what that should mean to us. There are some who would say to keep the civic and religious separated and distinct. There’s some good historic precedence for doing just that very thing. We have witnessed in the past how religious persecution has been enforced via civil law. We have witnessed, even in recent times where religious beliefs and law have subverted basic human rights. I’m speaking of course in a global context. We all know and believe religious freedom here in the United States is a cornerstone of our democracy. We don’t believe any one religion should take prominence, or any religious belief should be a litmus test for how our democracy should function. Religious beliefs, or the absence of religious beliefs, should play no part in how our civil society functions.
Having said that, we also express, as a nation a belief in human rights that mirrors those we as Christians espouse. We believe God created each of us, individually, with all of our unique and indelible traits. We further believe, God’s love is for ALL people. Because we believe we are each stamped with the likeness of God, we believe we are to treat one another with the same deference we would when speaking and acting with God. We are deeply loved by the Divine, and we are commanded to love each other in the same way.
This brings me to the present. Yesterday was the first day of early voting in Texas. I exercised my right to vote yesterday, along with a great many others. Yes, the polling place was crowded. Yes, I had to stand in a long line. Yes, it was not convenient. Yes, I felt it my civic AND religious duty to participate.
I know what you’re thinking, religious duty? To vote? My answer is a resounding YES.
In Jeremiah 29:7 we’re told, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” What I hear God saying to the exiled Israelites in Babylon is, this is your home for now. You must not only exist here, you must thrive here. It is imperative that you be a model citizen, giving back to the place which is your home. Do all you can to make sure where you live is the best you can make it. As it is blessed, so too will you be blessed.
We can see this in the places where we live. The more we give back and participate in making those places loving, kind, compassionate, giving, and secure, the better that place becomes for us and everyone else.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Our Christian witness of loving neighbor as we love ourselves can have a dramatic effect on the places where we live. As we show love and support for our neighbors, its like (please pardon the allusion) a virus, it will spread uncontrollably so that we infect the entire populace with God’s awesome enfolding love. This can only have the most positive effect in our civic life.
In Romans 13:1, Paul says clearly “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Paul is admonishing Christians to be a part of the civic discourse, be part of the civic populace, participate in its institutions, and be obedient to its governing laws and authority. It is in this way, that Christian ideals and ethics and mores become a part of the conversation, and quite possibly become a part of the code by which society will act.
Finally, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, said “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: and, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
We as followers of Jesus, as adherents to what we read and interpret in the Scriptures, and as people of faith, have a duty as citizens and should exercise that duty with all deliberation and expedience.
Friends, in this time of election, it is imperative that you exercise your right, your duty, and vote. A clergy colleague and friend of mine said recently there were two reasons to vote early: 1. You will have gotten it done (done your duty) and nothing will hamper you from that duty as the final voting day approaches. 2. By voting early, you make room for those who will wait until the final voting day, thereby making it less congested for them. I like both of those points he made. I would add to it though, by voting early you will have performed what I believe is a sacred duty to participate in our society, and you will then be free to do even greater works of love and compassion.
We have a duty to God and country, and God has made it clear we are to participate fully as citizens where we live. Our country is a better place, a more civil place, a more ordered place when we exercise our duty to vote. After voting, we then treat others the way God has treated us. Those who vote like us, and those who do not, we treat them all with the same love, and compassion, and acceptance. All, without exception. When we do this, we will be acting and living in the will of God.
Please, go vote and go love.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,