This election—as in the last, and the one before that—we are told that certain issues are the only measuring sticks for us as Christians. If we’re Catholic or conservative evangelical Christians, we’re told that we have to vote one way on abortion and gay marriage; if we’re progressives, we’re told we have to vote another way on abortion and gay marriage.
But while there’s certainly a case to be made that moral issues and social justice should be pivotal to Christian voters, the truth is that our political process is so badly broken—at least partially because of our own single-issue voting and party politics—that I don’t think Christians should be primarily focused on advocating certain issues.
No, I think that our own participation in American civic life has become so unchristian that what Christians should be concerned about is not Christian issues, but a Christian ethic for doing politics.
Our key issues should be process, not policies.
A few years ago, Sen. John Danforth preached here in Austin at the graduation of the Episcopal seminary. Danforth, an Episcopal priest, was the Republican senator from Missouri, and Goerge W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations.
I have to say, I expected a typical partisan political sermon.
What I got instead was something so radical that it was the inspiration to write my book Faithful Citizenship and to make it not a Christian guide to voting, but a Christian exploration of how we live in community.
Sen. Danforth said the primary goal for Christians in the political arena should not be their support or denial of a particular issue, but should be to change the way we do politics itself. He preached the primacy of reconciliation, saying that reconciliation “is at the heart of what we believe. We believe that God overcomes estrangement, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and that we are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation . . . Our challenge is to engage in politics in ways that hold the country together.”
This election—as in the last, and the one before that—the most important issue is not the issues. Rise or fall, the arc of the universe is, as Dr. King said, still toward justice. Win or lose, God’s still got the whole world in His hands. As conservatives and progressives, Catholics and Protestants, the primary issue for all of us is whether or not we are agents of reconciliation, bearing God’s love to the world, mending the fabric of our society instead of tearing it apart.
That’s what’s at stake in this election, above all. And until we realize that, we’ll continue to deify the issues of the day instead of God.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.