The chaotic pull between acrimony and harmony on social media and in conversations across the country will only intensify as the 2020 election draws closer. Politics and religion will again be divisive. But lessons pre-dating Facebook and Twitter — lessons from the teachings of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Prophet Isaiah — offer insight on the responsibilities due people of faith in the discourse and dialogue.
I was recently asked to appear on national news for an interview about Christian faith, the Democratic electorate, and the approaching 2020 Election. Although that is a topic near and dear to my heart, I had to decline because of recovery from dental surgery. This invitation, however, made me ponder the dialogue to come. I can only imagine the volume of discussion at the intersection of faith and public policy that will doubtlessly rage on social media, at dinner tables across the country, and on the evening news over the next 18 months as the election approaches.
But then, I am convicted by the words of Reverend King, “When religion becomes so involved in a future good ‘over yonder’ that it forgets the present evils over here it is as dry as dust religion and needs to be condemned.”
These aren’t simply public policy issues: care for the poor and the oppressed; the systematic and generational discrimination of white supremacy, male supremacy, and straight supremacy; broken immigration and asylum systems; and a socio-economic system so shattered by corporate greed and deregulation that human dignity has too often become an afterthought if a thought at all. These are issues at the intersection of faith and public policy. These are issues for which we shall all have to soon make decisions — decisions for which we shall all be accountable.
Progress on these issues will benefit people from all walks of life, from the rural white farmhand to the black or brown inner-city youth, from the migrant working mom to the retired blue-collar plumber. Advancing equity and justice for all is surely a value that people of faith on both sides of the aisle can agree on and have even championed in the past.
Rev. King’s aforementioned comment, from a sermon about the incompatibility of Christianity and Communism, was preceded in his remarks by a condemnation of the Church’s silent sanction of slavery and segregation. Silent or direct acceptance of evil can be a sanction of evil.
From Isaiah 1:17 (NIV): “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus echoed these virtues as the standard by which Believers will be judged — how we treat the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and the foreigner amongst us.
But notice the instructional context of Isaiah, “learn to do right,” because we have failed thus far at justly doing right. We must learn it. We must learn the values Jesus enumerated in the 25th chapter of Matthew. These values all Christians should agree on and embody.
Isaiah does not mention “agreeing to disagree” or “keeping harmony” and waiting to do right “over yonder.” The instruction, no — the imperative, is to LEARN to do right here and now. Learn it so that we may embrace it, so that we may live it, and so that — with both love and righteousness — we may boldly speak it.
If past is a predictor of future, Republicans will try to abuse the faith of American voters and manipulate it. Democrats will ignore it as a central part of the historical progressive values system in this country. We cannot simply follow Party blindly. Followers of Christ are needed now more than ever if the Church, political parties, and our national leadership are to “learn to do right.”