Election 08's 'False Clerics and Schismatic Spirits'
The campaign season has brought many news stories and analysis pieces on religion's role in the presidential election. Beyond questions of whether Democrats can win more evangelicals' votes or whose health-care plan is most just, however, are deeper questions of how God has called Christians to act in society. In the coming months before the election, Christianity Today will be publishing a wide spectrum of viewpoints on the proper role of Christianity in electoral politics. Here, Uwe Siemon-Netto offers his Lutheran perspective.
The religious aspect of the 2008 election leaves this confessional Lutheran once again mystified. First there was the kerfuffle over whether Christians could elect a Mormon to the White House, a dispute making no sense to followers of Martin Luther, who said, "The emperor need not be a Christian so long as he possesses reason." Meanwhile, the amiable Mike Huckabee mused inexplicably about an alleged need to conform the Constitution more to the Bible. Then John McCain got in hot water for accepting the endorsement of Texas pastor John Hagee, a vituperative critic of the Roman Catholic Church.
The latest uproar is over the church Sen. Barack Obama has affiliated himself with, and whether he should have fled Jeremiah Wright after the pastor offered such hideous political pronouncements as "God damn America."
All this makes a staunch Lutheran groan in desperation. Did not Christ tell Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36)? Which of these seven words is so hard to understand?
Hearing Wright's unsettling videos (and Obama's elucidations) made me think fondly of my own congregation. I belong to Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in downtown Washington, D.C. This is an all-black parish, just like Obama's. My wife and I, along with another congregant and the organist, are the only white members. We did not join Mount Olivet to make a political statement, however; we did so simply because it was closest to our home, and because it was liturgical and faithful to Scripture and the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church. That was all we needed.
No doubt our pastor, John F. Johnson, and many congregants have experienced just as many frustrations as Wright on account of their race. But I have never heard about it from the pulpit or in committees and voters' meetings. Johnson preaches every Sunday on the prescribed readings for that day. That's the beauty of lectionaries in liturgical churches; they are meant to shield homilists from the hubris of their urge to be "original." Therefore our pastor is a much more convincing preacher than Wright. As a confessional Lutheran, he knows, as do his listeners, that personal gripes have no place in divine service. They have learned from childhood to distinguish properly between the spiritual and the secular realms, between law and gospel, between the "two kingdoms," as we Lutherans call the two realities constituting every Christian's paradoxical existence kingdoms in which every Christian holds dual citizenship.
There is the "right-hand" kingdom that will ultimately be glorified in the kingdom of God. It is infinite, and the church is part of this realm. Here God has revealed himself in Christ. Here Christ rules by grace. Here all are equals, all forgiven sinners, all members of Christ's body. And then there is the temporal "left-hand kingdom," where God conducts a strange mummery and never reveals himself. "Through good and bad princes God governs the terrestrial world," Luther said. In a democracy, these "princes" include all of us, the voters. We make mistakes, of course, but God will ultimately correct those. This is the realm of the law and of practical reason, both under sin, yet gifts from God to operate in this world.