“So Aunt Wilma? Who do you want for president?”
It was an election year; I was a sophomore in college and politics had been my primary extracurricular activity. I enjoyed debating the issues, discussing solutions and following political trends. Aunt Wilma, my grandfather’s octogenarian sister, was a retired high school Latin teacher married to a retired Emory University political science professor. Highly intelligent and fiercely opinionated, Aunt Wilma had surely assessed the candidates and made an informed decision about who our next president should be. I wanted to hear her thoughts.
“Young lady!” Her retort was swift and fiery. “That is none of your business! We do not talk about such things.” Ouch! Clearly, my great-aunt did not consider politics an appropriate topic for polite conversation.
I often wonder, since my dear Aunt Wilma found my long-ago inquiry disrespectful, what in the world would she think of the vituperative nature of today’s news and social media? In truth, we exceeded the boundaries of polite conversation long before this election year even began.
In fact, our political discourse these days is just plain nasty and it’s caused me to wonder: can Baptists be both committed to the message of Christ and active in political matters? It certainly hasn’t seemed like it to me. When I read election coverage, I don’t at all feel as if I’m becoming more like Christ. I feel self-righteous, indignant and superior. Then I feel guilty, frustrated and hopeless.
Thankfully, I got some answers just this past week in Wednesday night Bible study. My pastor, Dr. Jim McCoy, drawing on the research of Duke University Divinity School professor Luke Bretherton, pointed to the truth found in Jeremiah, chapter 29.
At this point in the text, Jeremiah is delivering a message to the people of the Babylonian Exile. He tells them that God is calling them to settle in the region. “Go ahead and get married,” Jeremiah says. “Buy a house. Join the PTA, the YMCA, a local church.” Essentially, Jeremiah says, “Be all in. Hold nothing back.”
And then in verse 7, God (through Jeremiah) says this to the people, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Did you get that? God says to those captured by Babylon, “Get to know your captors. Make them your very own family. Then, do what’s best for Babylon; pray for them; for what is best for Babylon, is best for you.” Babylon was the enemy! That’s crazy! Just imagine saying to a marriage equality group, “Join Westboro Baptist Church! Go to Sunday school and Wednesday night fellowship dinners. Seek the welfare of your new church home and do what’s best for them.” Or to a Trump supporter, “Move to the border and build a bridge of fellowship, not a wall of exclusion. Find out what needs undocumented workers have and seek solutions.” It’s counter-intuitive at the very least.
But what if we did follow that direction? What if we did truly seek the welfare of the city? We might just begin to see others with the eyes of Christ. We might seek to understand, to reconcile, to appreciate. We might work for clean water, safe streets, better schools, healthy local businesses. Truly, if we put Jeremiah’s direction into practice consistently, I believe politics could become hopeful and encouraging, instead of hateful and destructive.
And that kind of political discussion wouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Even to Aunt Wilma.