From the Book of Ben Sira:
Many have fallen by the edge of the sword,
but not as many as have fallen because of the tongue.
Happy is one who is protected from it,
who has not been exposed to its anger,
who has not borne its yoke,
and has not been bound with its fetters.
For its yoke is a yoke of iron,
and its fetters are fetters of bronze;
its death is an evil death,
and Hades is preferable to it.
* * *
Take care not to err with your tongue,
and fall victim to one lying in wait.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 28:18-21,26 – October 31, 2012)
I am a political junkie (to use a term probably copyrighted by the NPR radio show Talk of the Nation). I love the democratic political process by which we in the United States choose our leadership. I don’t, however, love what it sometimes makes me become – a hyperpartisan. Once I have considered the issues and the candidates, once I have decided for which candidate or party or side of an issue I am going to vote, I am decidedly opinionated and not shy about sharing that opinion.
The reading from Ben Sira today concerns slander rather than opinion (or at least that is how the translators have rendered the original which literally means “a third tongue”). I don’t think I have ever actually slandered any politician, but I will admit that my opinionated descriptions of some have been less than kind. I think Ben Sira’s admonitions may nonetheless apply.
Recently my friend Sarah, who is a priest and a military chaplain, posted this reflection as her Facebook status:
I have been avoiding overtly political posts since I love and serve a broad cross-section of the population and will not host hostility in my home or on my fb page. As a spiritual guide, it is time for me to openly say something about the things people of faith must consider if they are to follow the shared fundamental ethics of the major world religions. As a priest and minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is time for me to say something about what it means to vote Gospel values. It means voting for whomsoever has a preferential option for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the outcast. It means voting for whomsoever has demonstrated consistent concern for bringing high places low, for straightening crooked paths, for feeding the hungry, honoring the despised, protecting the least of these. We are a community, and while rugged individualism may be an American value, it is not a Christian value. If you want to vote your values, vote out of the conviction that God can and will honor self-sacrifice out of love for “the least of these.” If you want to live your values, practice love and not vitriol. If you want to vote your values, do not try to force your personal moral practices about things related to sex into the laws of the land. Instead, make this country a great place for all people from all socioeconomic classes to be married and raise children. Continuing praying for God’s love to prevail even if it costs you and me and us everything. If you pray for God’s love to prevail, share that love, including love for your enemies. This means action in word and deeds, including how we regard those who believe differently than we do. It means a return to civility and bipartisanship. As one of my medical colleagues (who, by the way, I imagine will vote quite differently than I would like him to!) lives by: “charity faileth never.”
I agree with Sarah wholeheartedly as to what it means to vote one’s values and what it means to vote as a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s those last couple of lines in her Facebook status that call me up short! It’s the embodying of those same values in our political discourse as well as in our vote that I have trouble with. It’s the “words and actions,” the “civility and bipartisanship”, the never-failing charity part.
I try, Lord knows, I try to be like Sarah. I try to follow Ben Sira’s admonitions. I don’t always (in fact, I seldom) succeed. But I hope that Thomas Merton was right, that the desire to please God does in fact please God, that though we do not succeed there is merit in the attempt. (The Merton Prayer)
I will always love politics. I will always be partisan. God grant that in my partisanship I can be gentle, or at least try to be . . . and I hope that that is enough.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.