Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An Open Letter to a Grumpy Lutheran (Reflections on the Election of 2016)

An "I voted" sticker given to Boston voters in 2016.

I voted this morning. It wasn’t easy. Some less-than-courteous fellow citizen had parked his SUV over the line in the already full parking lot, but I managed—with great automotive dexterity—to squeeze my Toyota into the tiny sliver of a parking space, and, with only about twelve inches of door clearance, I slithered out like a mollusk.

I’ve never seen a crowd like this at my polling place. In spite of the large turnout, everyone seemed curiously sedate this morning. There was a solemnity in the air that felt like church. People recognized the importance of participating in democracy. It was strangely sacred, and it felt good to be an American.

For weeks now, one of my parishioners has been filling my in-box with his political opinions. His emails have railed against both presidential candidates, but he has leaned in a certain direction and written derisively against those in the opposing camp. His comments are disdainful (and, upon occasion, somewhat racist), and one of the more recent emails referred to members of the party to which I belong as “idiots.” I think today, on Election Day, I will reply to him in an attempt to make known that I have given considerable thought to the opinions I hold.

Dear Friend,

First, let me tell you that I love you. Not just as your pastor, but as a fellow human being. You are a good man with many fine qualities, and I am extremely grateful for the faithfulness you have shown to me and to your congregation. If we disagree on a few issues, it should never be understood that I don’t value you and esteem you highly. We are brothers in Christ, and that is more important than anything.

I’d like to explain to you my political philosophy. As Luther teaches in his explanation to the eighth commandment, we are to explain the actions of others in the kindest possible light. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt—even in politics—and I don’t believe any of our elected officials or candidates get up each morning thinking, “What can I do to screw up America today?” I think it’s fair to judge someone’s ideas and policies, but not fair to try and judge their motives. Let’s start by believing that we all want the best for our country and world. We just differ on how to achieve it.

Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary spelled out our Savior’s priorities (See Luke 6:20-31). Jesus loves the poor and the outcast. He teaches compassion, patience, forgiveness, and generosity. We should, as Christians, embrace these values, too. Martin Luther was also a great advocate for the peasantry. My Christianity believes that it is the duty of the strong to protect the weak. This doesn’t just mean against crime and violence. It means to protect them against discrimination, poverty, illness, and ignorance. The early Christians understood this, and pooled their resources in order to care for the less fortunate (See Acts 4: 32-34).

I cannot personally reconcile the theory of supply-side economics with the teaching of Scripture. This policy leaves the greatest wealth in the hands of those who are already wealthy. When tried, it has proven to be a failure at getting capital to circulate throughout the economy. It increases the federal deficit and calls for our leaders to make drastic cuts in discretionary spending—cuts which almost invariably impact the poorest and most vulnerable of society. Schools, nutrition programs, and clinics all lose out, and so do the poorest Americans.

I am also greatly concerned about America’s foreign policy, and I look to Jesus’ words in Luke’s Gospel for guidance here as well. I know it’s a dangerous world, and laws must be enforced for the protection of the weak—even if they are enforced at the point of a gun. Still, hatred and violence are never the answer. We will not kill our way out of the problem of terrorism and radical extremism. At some point, we are going to have to listen to those who hate us and try to understand them. As Abraham Lincoln pointed out, we will destroy our enemy when we make him our friend.

Another concern of mine which influences my stance on public policy is concern for the earth God made. God gave us this planet and told us to take care of it (Genesis 1:28). I feel it is simply poor stewardship—as well as bad economics—for America to double down on energy technologies which poison the planet, cause health problems for those who work in supplying them, and will ultimately become obsolete. To me, wisdom dictates that we pool our resources to find alternatives which will be environmentally friendly and economically sustainable.

There are many other issues which have surfaced in this campaign and upon which I hold strong convictions. I’m sharing these with you now in order that you might have a little better insight into how I think, and, perhaps, you won’t judge me so harshly. I’ll end by saying that I have great confidence in American democracy and our constitutional government. However this election turns out tonight, we can endure. Still, what will matter most will not be tonight’s election results, but how we as human beings and people of faith attempt to reconcile them tomorrow.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Owen

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