Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Politics

I've decided that I should probably post my newsletter articles here as well.  This is the one for the upcoming July issue of "Cross Words."


What is the Eighth Commandment?
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

As I write these words, the election of the President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is being held over the Internet. This is a new procedure which was instituted by the 2010 national convention, replacing the election of the President at the convention itself. Instead of being elected by the national convention delegates, the President of the Synod is now elected by all those who were delegates to the 2012 district conventions, including myself and Bob Armbrecht from our own congregation. By the time you read this article, the election will be over, and we will already have found out who the next President of the Synod will be. I suspect that many of you have guessed this already, but I’m in favor of the current incumbent, Matthew Harrison (of course, I’m biased; I considered Pastor Harrison a friend even before he became our Synod’s Human Care executive, let alone President). Each of you will have his own opinions as well, I’m sure, including the opinion of “I don’t know any of these guys, and whatever will be, will be,” which is also a legitimate opinion, as many of you have more important things to worry about in your own stations in life than who the President of Synod is.

Of course, the political process within our Synod does not end with the election of the President. Once the convention convenes, there are the five Vice-Presidents to elect as well, along with many members of boards of regents of our colleges, universities, and seminaries, and governing boards of various other Synodical entities, including members of the Boards for National and International Missions, two powerful “umbrella” boards created by the 2010 convention. There are many resolutions to consider, some of which propose various changes to the structure of our Synod (none so radical, as far as I know, as the changes that were passed in 2010). There are resolutions affirming basic Bible truths, and basic tasks of Christians and the Church (such as evangelism and missions) and resolutions responding positively or negatively to various events and situations in the life of our Synod over the past three, six, or even more years. There are resolutions which propose various different changes to how our pastors and church workers are educated, not to mention the many others enrolled in our schools who plan to pursue Godly vocations that do not involve employment by the Church. There are resolutions responding to various changes and trends in our culture and in the political life of our nation. There are resolutions regarding finances (always a tough subject in the current economy), and regarding the worship life of our congregations. There are resolutions that propose different approaches to the various relationships between our Synod and other church bodies, including Lutheran ones. There are even resolutions either questioning or affirming our Synod’s requirement (which we as a Synod have in the past held that the Bible teaches) that pastors be male.

All of these elections and decisions, by their very nature, inevitably involve something that is often considered a dirty word, at least when it comes to the life of the Church: politics. The reason why it is considered a dirty word, and why it so often discouraged in connection with the life of the Church, is because politics can so often become sinful, as the proponents of one candidate or position are tempted to engage in “mudslinging,” or “negative politics,” a tactic which violates the Eighth Commandment by harming the reputation of his opponent, whether by telling outright lies, or by “spinning” points that are technically true in ways that give an untrue and damaging impression about a candidate or position. Such behavior has become almost universal in the world of local, state, and national secular politics in our country, and has also, unfortunately, been employed by those within the Church, and this is why the word politics itself has come to have such a bad reputation among Christians.

However, we simply cannot have an entity that is governed through the use of elections and resolutions, without some form of “politics.” Our Synod and our districts are governed in this way, as are our congregations. Even the elections of Holy Cross’ church board and officers, and the passing of resolutions by our board and voters’ meetings, are technically political, though often the political process, as with most other small congregations, is determined by who can be “roped” or “railroaded” into being elected and holding a particular office rather than by two or more candidates or positions competing for it. Politics is, in its best form, simply the promotion, the “speaking well of,” a particular candidate, position, or resolution. To be sure, it’s hard to speak well of one candidate, without at least sounding like you’re criticizing the others, if only by implication. And, in this old sinful world, there really is an extremely fine line, one which cannot always be clearly seen, between speaking well of someone and hurting the reputations of his rivals. However, those who choose to participate in the political process, either secular or Churchly, have a responsibility to educate themselves about the positions and philosophies behind the various candidates as well as the various other issues which face them. The way this education happens is to research what other people are saying about the various decisions which lie before them. Such education is actually helped by those who engage in political advocacy, as the more clearly the differences between various candidates and resolutions are seen, the better job the voters will do at selecting what they consider to be the best candidate or resolution. That is why political advocacy, rather than being inherently sinful as is sometimes alleged, is actually a necessary part the election process. This is why those who have strong opinions on a particular issue or candidate actually have the responsibility to engage in political advocacy for their preferred position: it actually helps the voters in their own vocation of making the best decision possible. Putting it another way: it is true that ultimately the Holy Spirit is in charge of who holds what position within the Church (and even the nation), but the Holy Spirit works through means, and one of those means is the education of the voters by means of political advocacy.

However, as I mentioned, it is nearly impossible to engage in political advocacy without at least sounding like you are criticizing those whose opinions and positions differ from your own. Even when someone scrupulously avoids negative politics, the impression is still given that the one doing the advocating has “something against” the other guy. And it is true that part of political advocacy is to highlight the differences between candidates and their positions, and that includes stating where one simply disagrees with another candidate. But, as I pointed out above, there is often a very fine line between stating a disagreement and mudslinging.

So, what is the Church to do? What are sincere, Godly voters to do? What are sincere, Godly men and women who wish to educate those voters to do? Firstly, they are to do the same thing they are to do in every other area of life: do the best you can, and trust that Jesus’ death on the cross covers up your sin when you don’t do it right. After all, that’s all we can do in any area of life. Even those with the best intentions cannot completely avoid sin. In this, the political process is no different than anything else Christians do in their various vocations. Second, forgive one another. One other unfortunate side-effect of the political process is that when one’s candidate or position doesn’t win the day, it is easy to carry a grudge that hinders working together once more in our vocations after the decision is made. While it is true that you can sincerely disagree with someone and try again to steer things in a different direction the next time around, and that some candidates and positions are simply incompatible with each other, we still have the vocation of helping one another and speaking well of one another where we can legitimately do so. Failure to do this is part of what has caused such complete political polarization over the last couple of decades in both our Church and our nation. As with any other area of life where people sin against one another, the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross is what keeps us all working together. It is that forgiveness, that cross, and that Christ, to whom we look even as we engage in the political process, and that forgiveness, that cross, and that Christ which will ultimately bring us to that place where there is no disagreement or strife: life with God in eternity.

Pastor Schellenbach

Edit 7/11/13: When I said "resolutions" above, I should have said "overtures."  An overture is a proposed resolution which is submitted by a congregation or other entity for consideration.  A resolution is a proposal from one of the convention floor committees that is formulated in response to various overtures.  The resolutions that will actually be brought before the convention are the ones prepared by the floor committees, although any overture (or even an amendment or substitute resolution written on the spot) can be moved and seconded and thereby brought before the convention from the floor, in accordance with Robert's Rules of Order.  The wide variety of proposals and opinions I mentioned in the article were reflected in the overtures rather than the floor committee resolutions.

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