I’ve been doing voter registration in my small East Texas county and it has been fascinating to meet so many different people and to hear just a snatch of their stories. A few people would vote for Texas to secede from the United States; several wouldn’t dare vote for any of the “puppets” running for any kind of office; quite a few women lean forward to listen more closely when I tell them that some strong smart women are running for Texas’ top positions. My favorites are the people who look down at their feet and tell me they can’t vote because they have a felony conviction in their past. I get to ask them: “Are you off paper? Have you finished your parole and probation? Then you ARE eligible to vote!” You should see the expressions on their faces. Sometimes it’s the people who have lost their right to vote who most appreciate its privilege and are willing to once again step up to its responsibility.
But I have to admit I was taken back a bit when one woman looked me in the eye and said: “I’ll vote for Jesus.” In her mind, Jesus is the only one who can fix the mess we humans have made. In her thinking, it is only when Jesus comes again that the world will be set right.
I am a Christian minister and I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at her response. I’m a big fan of Jesus too; I think the world would be a much better place if more of us actually lived his values. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. Even when people who wear the name of Christ wield some control in houses of legislature and governor’s mansions, I don’t see too many ways that Jesus’ values get folded into our laws and policies. Certain types of “christian” values get a lot of public play these days, but it’s rare that Jesus’ deepest values actually influence the values of our society.
Feed the hungry.
Welcome the stranger.
Care for the orphans and widows.
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Private charity is a good and necessary thing in every society, but in America many of our current laws that reflect these values have been hard fought and often accomplished over the protests of some of the very people who wear the name of the Christ; the Christ who taught and lived these most basic values of “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.” The way I read my Bible, Jesus saved his harshest critique not for the government, but rather for the people who perverted religion into a self-centered, self-serving enterprise. If a person’s religion doesn’t feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, then it’s not the same faith Jesus practiced.
If a person’s religion doesn’t move them to seek systemic solutions to hunger, illness and exclusion then it’s not the kind of faith I care to practice. Advocating for public policies that truly serve the common good and embody the values of “liberty and justice for all” is one way I can live out my faith in appropriate ways within my society.
A recent encouragement came across my Facebook news feed from the Red Letter Christians:
“Heal the Sick. Feed the Hungry. And when you learn what is making them sick and hungry, interrupt it in Jesus’ name.”
Jesus is not running for office so there is no way my new friend can “vote for Jesus.” And there is no one here who can fix this mess except those of us who have created it.
So in the meantime, the Jesus people among us can vote for people who are committed to the same values Jesus taught and lived. We can vote for movements that invite us to join in and help improve the lives of all our neighbors. We can vote our values. We can vote. And we must. Each of us individually, all of us together do something important and vital when we vote our values of equity, honesty and compassion.