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Mending the Breach

Voter turnout this past Tuesday reached record numbers. Clearly Americans have demonstrated a vigorous interest in the outcome of this presidential election. They may have been motivated by different issues, but voters were motivated. Campaign managers and candidates on all sides have actively promoted and exploited this motivation.

While all political marketing resorts to hyperbole and exaggeration in order to sell us on their candidate, this campaign reached new highs and lows. The war on terror, the ongoing uncertainty about the economy and the lurking sense that somehow America is adrift morally: all combined to provide powerful if not profound campaign rhetoric. At times the language took on biblical proportions–literally and figuratively.

In fact, it’s hard not to notice the overall presence of religion in this campaign. Churches as well as individual believers were courted by all parties. Time will tell just how great was the impact of the faith community in this election, but we can surmise it was significant.

While many people have no reservations about using religion to achieve partisan objectives, the process does raise some troubling questions. For instance, how does the spiritualizing of the American political system impact the way our government functions. Are we a theocratic state, ruled by God through a divinely appointed leader?

If we follow some of the logic put forward by faith groups involved in the campaign, that’s the conclusions we are forced to draw. Over and over again people of faith were told to get out the vote. What else could be the motivation but believing that one of the candidates was ordained by God to lead while the other was not.

And if divinely appointed candidates do win, then where does their mandate come from. To whom does a divinely appointed leader answer?  In our system we believe that those who are elected govern by consent of the governed. In other words, the people have the final say, not God.

That notion is difficult for many in the Christian community to accept. They believe God should always have the final say. The problem, of course, is that in a democracy, who gets to say whose God speaks last?

The other problem that comes with spiritualizing the political process is the politicization of the church. We have all seen the map with the red states and the blue states. But what happens to the faith when we begin to have red churches and blue churches? Something unique and essential about faith is lost when the character and mission of a local church is determined by their commitment to a political party.

Perhaps most saddening is how aligning churches with political parties hinders us from doing what we are really good at. After a hard fought and divisive campaign like the one just completed, where do we go to find unity? What is there that can pull us together? Traditionally, churches have been one of the best resources we have for bringing people together around shared purposes and meanings. But if the red state/blue state mentality finds its way into the faith, our best hope for achieving community may be compromised.

The New Testament offers a profound picture of a community so unified and committed to each other that no one goes hungry, no one weeps alone, and no one is forgotten. A community like that will never be possible in a world divided into red and blue states, and certainly not in a nation divided into red and blue churches.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.