Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Of Primary Concern

Well sports fans, it’s that time in history once again; time to determine who will land in the Oval office and navigate the waters of international chaos, energy and environmental crisis, economic uncertainty, and increasingly challenging access to health care for millions of Americans. So we’ll be voting and watching over these next few months to see where this is all heading. The most cynical among us, as well as some extreme conspiracy theorists, won’t even bother to vote, believing that elections are determined solely by the interests of multi-national corporations and "their will be done, in India as it is in London, as it is in New York.”

So what’s a pastor to do at this time of year? To endorse a particular candidate is to risk being charged with being too political. I’m sensitive to that, although I’d note that there have been times in history when churches were silent out of deference to the state’s wishes and nasty things happened, like six-million Jews being executed. Precious few church leaders were willing to be explicit in their naming of Hitler’s dangers and crimes. And there are other issues too, where the church has been silent. Slavery? Colonialism? ...? I hope and pray that I’ll be explicit in naming names and crimes when the time is called for.

Until such time, I do think it’s important for pastors to communicate what they perceive to be the important issues for this time in history, and to encourage people to use the voice they’ve been given, casting their vote for the most appropriate candidate. After all, Jeremiah 29 encourages us to work and pray for the well being of the place where we live, wherever that place happens to be. At times those concerns are intensely local (as in our particular concerns with the well being of the neighborhood near our church) and at times they are national, such as when there’s an election and we’re considering issues and leadership that will affect all Americans and perhaps even the whole world.

So what are the important issues for us? I hope that we’ll elect a candidate who will:

  1. Recognize the growing gap between the rich and the poor and address it through economic checks and balances that will give more people a chance. I find it intriguing that our founding fathers were committed to checks and balances in the realms of government, but somehow felt that everyone operating in their economic self interest would float the boat of well being for all. This sort of economic Darwinism clearly isn’t working. Who will work to hold corporations accountable for policies that further injustice and oppression?
  2. Call people to sacrifice rather than consumption. Why? Because our lifestyles as Americans have us drowning in a sea of debt. Because of #1 above. Because of #5 below. And finally, because our materialism has been the de-facto means of defining our lives, so that we are increasingly a nation that is materially obese, but starving in our spirits and souls.
  3. Tell the truth – about how we will treat prisoners of war, about why we’re involved in military operations, or if we leave Iraq, why we’re getting out – about the many complexities of the illegal immigration issues – about the national debt and the weakening dollar – about the rapidly diminishing supply of oil globally and what we’ll do to energize ourselves differently, and the sacrifices that will be needed to take us there – about the real threats to both our liberties and our safety that have come about because of terrorist threats and how our leadership will balance those threats.
  4. Restore our status on the international stage as a country that uses its power and status to bless the world. This will require someone with commitments to, and skills in international diplomacy, as well us understanding the role of the sword in keeping peace, a fine balance indeed.
  5. Understand the holistic nature of the environmental crisis and be committed to action in all areas. Farming practices and erosion of topsoil, public transportation options in urban centers, the creation of micro-local economies, and heavy incentives for the real development and implementation of alternative energy sources are all important aspects of environmental responsibility.

The list could continue on, but I wanted to limit it to my top five. I’m hoping that you’ll add your own priorities to the list by leaving a comment. What are your primary concerns?


At 8/1/08 13:36, Anonymous donte said...

Obama '08!

At 8/1/08 16:13, Anonymous Kristi said...

What are my priorities? Well, for one, I'd love to have a president that not only sees that the nation in which we reside is complex, but one who will be honest and address that complexity, resisting the easy road which slaps labels on people and issues. I'd love for a president to be passionate not only about his or her party's interests, but also about reconciling the deep divisions in our nation so that we can work together to use our power to be a blessing. Is it too much to ask for a president who is humble and willing to consider the position of those who disagree with him or her?

In addition to the priorities already laid out by Richard, these are mine.

At 8/1/08 23:49, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cover story of the Dec 2007 issue of The Atlantic is a very interesting article about Barack Obama. Well worth the time to read it.

At 9/1/08 12:04, Anonymous Kyle Sale said...

Richard, your comment about the founding father's overt trust in free markets / capitalism reminded me of an interesting article I just read about Christian business owners using capitalism as a tool to improve lives in impoverished countries. You can read it here:

Basically these folks look at business as a way to make a buck, spread the gospel and be a blessing to the world by providing safe work environments, education, food, etc.

At 9/1/08 12:07, Anonymous Kyle Sale said...

Sorry, I pasted the above address incorrectly, it should be

The article is entitled: 'The Mission of Business'

At 9/1/08 12:09, Anonymous Kyle Sale (aka 'blog rookie') said...

okay...I've had it! This site keeps chopping of the end of the link, which should be


not just /2

I'm done!!

At 10/1/08 17:42, Blogger Greg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/1/08 17:48, Blogger Greg said...

Thanks, Richard!

The concern about the level of control that multinational corporations have over peoples' lives is a concern that I share. Our country was created to be a free nation, but more and more the "freedom" of big corporations has trumped the freedom and well-being of everyday ordinary people.

I too believe our country should endeavor more to be a blessing, as well as to be more understanding of the world we live in.

Unfortunately, I find myself a bit bewildered about the presidential candidates right now - none of them particularly appeal to me. On some issues, I tend to agree with the GOP, and on other issues, with the Dems. Sigh. One thing I have to remind myself of is that, regardless of who wins, we are still very blessed to live in a stable democracy, and though there are problems, we have a lot to be thankful for.

At 10/1/08 23:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about access to health care? And I mean for everyone. Tuberculosis knows no political or social boundaries. Neither does HIV or cancer, MRSA or the flu. Diseases that strike vulnerable communities first will soon enough find their way into affluent communities. What is at baseline (I think) a moral obligation, is also about self-preservation.

At 11/1/08 09:05, Blogger Katie said...

Restore our status on the international stage as a country that uses its power and status to bless the world.

Have we ever used our status and power to bless the world? I don't know that we have, honestly...

My only hope would be that some day we'll be able to choose our president not based on popularity, but on qualifications. The superficiality with which we choose our leaders is terrifying.

At 11/1/08 22:57, Anonymous Sacotamatoes said...

A few comments on the current election.

1. I found it interesting that (according to recent poles) the economy (self) is now the most important issue at hand, passing in second place, the war in Iraq (others). It was just another reminder that when problems hit home we quickly forget much more severe issues others are facing, and begin to focus on ourselves.

2. I quickly noticed you did not mention the issues of gay marriage or abortion as important issues. What I personally struggle with is the role of the government in personal "lifestyle" decisions. Is it the governments role or is it the role of Jesus and the Church? I am not sure!

And finally, to answer the question Richard posed... the most important issues to me (in no particular order)
- the war/ foreign relations/ diplomacy
- issues of education and health care for the poor
- the current ineffectiveness of the government
- environmental issues, including energy and oil

At 12/1/08 08:33, Blogger rivergreg said...

sacotamatoes - Personally, the various issues affecting the family in our society are pretty important to me. Sure that includes abortion and the definition of marriage, but it also includes things like the alarming rate of divorce. It is hard for me, too, to "draw the line" between where the government should be involved and where it should not. The government can pass laws, but without the transforming power of God in peoples' lives, I'm afraid the laws will just alienate people rather than really changing our society for the better.

However, I think a presidential candidate needs to be a good leader of people, not just a top-down controlling person who happens to have opinions that I agree with. Many folks vote out of fear -- perhaps fear of the composition of the supreme court, or maybe fear of a certain set of legislation -- and I don't think that's the right route to take. But I do want a candidate to have a concern for the issues affecting families... and not just a weak-hearted "on-paper-only-lets-get-the-votes" type of concern. I'm somewhat tired of candidates who architect their political positions in order to maximize the votes they can get....

At 14/1/08 10:55, Anonymous Lisa said...

I think it's hilarious and ridiculous that included amongst issues as important as war, poverty, healthcare, and the environment, that anyone would even think to add gay marriage! By all estimates gays represent less than 5% of the population. Yet their marriages threaten the stability of the family? C'mon, divorce, infidelity, lack of communication, lack of respect, and an unwillingness to commit along with a whole host of other ailments threaten our families, not gay folks trying to start their own.

I would count issues of poverty and healthcare, ending corporate welfare, becoming environmentally responsible, and creating living wage jobs amongst my top domestic priorites.

Elsewhere in the world we need to work on building relationships and restoring some shred of credibility to our words and some type of respect for our leaders and our nation. The war in Iraq needs to end and issues such as genocide in Darfur, the war in the Congo (and rape as a means of warfare), preventing disease and death through clean drinking water, and the international environment need to take center stage.

At 14/1/08 15:05, Blogger rivergreg said...

lisa - on the Iraq issue, I am definitely for a candidate who will realistically assess the situation as it stands now, not as we wish it would have stood five years ago. I'm not happy with the Iraq situation. But I want a candidate who can handle the situation with care and wisdom, rather than "let's get out and just pretend it never started" :)

On what you call the "gay marriage" thing, I agree with you wholeheartedly that issues such as divorce are far more significant. Yet oddly I never see the issues of divorce and such discussed much in politics... maybe it's because it is just too widespread, and the candidates are worried about offending too many voters! On the definition of marriage, the core political issue to me is not what gays choose to do in their own lifestyles, or even what legal contracts and such they choose to take part in. For me, the issue there is simply the definition of a core institution in our society (marriage).

For better or worse, the definition of marriage thing has become one of the issues that most of the candidates are taking strong positions on. So unfortunately when a candidate very vocally disagrees with my own convictions on the issue, it doesn't make me want to vote for him/her...

At 15/1/08 12:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may be a somewhat contrary opinion, but I've often felt that when we legislate morality and social equity issues on the federal level it actually robs the church of its ability to cheerfully and joyfully be salt and light in the world.

A few years ago, my wife and I had some medical bills that we were having a hard time paying. Some friends in our community rallied together and sold off some of the their belongings in a garage sale to cover our expenses. It was an amazing moment where the whole community was able to become Jesus to each other in a way that made us aware of his hand in our lives. The story was compelling to other people as well, and when we told it, friends began to check out what was going on with this small body of Christ Followers who were willing to meet each other's needs.

If I had simply gotten a check from the government or a waiver on my bill- 1) I would have missed out on the opportunity to trust God and see Him provide in amazing ways through the people around me, and 2) I would have missed out on the opportunity to be grateful and give thanks- when I get something from the government- I feel entitled to it. Maybe this is a weakness of mine, but I rarely give thanks to the government or to God for a tax refund. I don't give thanks to the insurance company when they cover the whole bill. I figure they owe me since I pay taxes and pay my premium every month (this probably isn't the right attitude to have, but it's how I often feel).

Anyhow, all this is to say that I'd love to vote for a candidate that empowers Churches and individuals to be the change that they seek, joyfully without mandate and compulsion. I think that's usually done by giving freedom and less regulation rather than forcing us do to it through taxation and legislation. Paul says to the church in Corinth: "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I think his point was that it's important to give, but it's also important to do it willingly and freely. Not under the mandate of some legalistic regulation. When we're giving cheerfully and joyfully to the needs of others, it's attractive and amazing to the people around us. It makes them curious about who we are and why we care.

Ultimately, that's the kind of community that has a chance to see lives change eternally as well as temporarily.

At 15/1/08 13:01, Anonymous Lisa said...

I can see what you're saying, and ideally that would be a wonderful system of providing for each others needs. However, it's already clear, from the use of tax shelters in the Caribbean, to the exhorbitant amount of money spent lobbying for lower taxes for corporations and the richest among us, that in general we must be compelled to give when we don't see how we directly benefit. Government must provide for the commons, be it the transportation system, national defense, the education of our children, the protection of our shared environment, or local police departments. So, even though it sounds nice and would be lovely for each to give as we've decided, in reality we're too broken and greedy by nature for such a system to work. Perhaps, if our nations were the size of our local communities such a plan might work. But alas, it's hard for me to picture the face of the child attending school down the street when I pay my property taxes, much less the commuter in Minneapolis when they are using a well built bridge paid for with my tax dollars.

At 15/1/08 14:45, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree completely with you when you say that someone "must provide for the commons." I'm just sure that's the federal government.

At 31/1/08 22:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect, please eliminate #1 from list of items on the original post..

There are relatively few rich and a huge number of poor. If all the rich have were spread out and given to the poor, they'd still be poor.

Truly, what is it called when property is taken from someone against their will (and they are given nothing in return)...well, that's theft, even if it is 'the government' doing the taking. This is simply wrong, even if it 'works' for society.
Sharing should be encouraged and rewarded and in fact is a duty. But stealing to share is not the way to get it done.


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