“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”
This is St. Francis of Assisi’s beautiful prayer. When I read it I am filled with wonder. “What if we lived like that?” For starters, if Christians behaved according to the vision of this prayer, a book like “UnChristian” never would have been written. But, the fact is that we do not behave this way. And in no other arena of life is this more true than in politics.
I want to use each line of this prayer to make a sort of rule-book for political engagement for Christians. We can call it “The Franciscan Regula (Rule) for Political Engagement”
Regula #1: Never Be Instruments of Violence
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Shalom is the Hebrew word for “YHWH’s peace.” Shalom is not just the absence of violence. It is the presence of wholeness. If we lived according to this rule, Christians would never be the instrument of violence in the political arena. We would never be the ones pointing fingers, calling names, shaming our enemies, demonizing the opposition. Instead, we would be bringing people together, breaking bread, listening, engaging, loving.
Regula #2: Respond to Hate with Love
“Where there is hatred, let us sow love” Hate is a big business in the world of politics. Super-Pacs and Campaign Teams spend billions of dollars during campaigns to get you to do one thing – hate your opponent. Their creed from which they operate says that hate is the best motivator to get you to vote for their guy/gal. Unfortunately, I see Christians every single day who fall prey to their schemes. But Christians are called to something higher, indeed holier than the hate-filled rhetoric of the right or left. We are called to love. According to Rule #2, we are to respond to hate with love. No exceptions.
Regula #3: Forgive Injuries
“Where there is injury, [let us sow] pardon” Often we come to political issues and engagements with an axe to grind. We are going to repay evil for evil. Join the revolution to oust the guilty party. But Jesus (and Paul), will not allow it. “Love your enemies” is the new Regula. We are to be known by how we love and forgive. Indeed, Peter reminds us that our name of our identity is “Mercy” (I Peter 2:10). Jesus asks a rhetorical question in the Sermon on the Mount that I think is particularly pointed for the political landscape that American Christians find themselves in: “What good is it if you only love those that love you?” We might reframe it this way: “What good is it if you only love those you agree with politically? Do not even the lobbyists do that?”
Regula #4: Bring People Together
“Where there is discord, [let us sow] union” Sowing union. Think about that. Not conformity of thought, not uniformity. Union. We need to be thinking about what brings people together and be proactive in making it happen. Our faith is not a negative faith – couched only in terms of what we are against. It is a positive and proactive faith that sows union. We are ministers of reconciliation (I Cor. 5:16-21).
Regula #5: Supply Faith
“Where there is doubt, [let us sow] faith. We are not called to check our faith at the door in the world of politics. It seems to me there are two extremes in this regard. The Political Right says only one faith perspective is welcome and everyone else is God-hating liberals. The Political Left says God is the God of the Right and is just a deistic puppet to underwrite the agenda of the enemy. Both are wrong. I happen to be rather glad that we celebrate political pluralism in America. It is written in our constitution. We protect and secure an environment where all are free and welcome to bring their “whole persons” with them to the political discussion – including their faith and morality, wherever they derive it from. This is a particularly interesting environment for the Christian, because we have the opportunity to supply faith where doubt exists. We can encourage the political ordering of society to shape a life that encourages human flourishing, even in an age when flourishing is defined in limited terms of “happiness, money, and power.”
Regula #6: Be Purveyors of Hope
“Where there is despair, [let us sow] hope” We need to be asking ourselves,constantly, a question that helps us measure whether we are working for good when we speak, or evil. The question could look like this: “Are the people I engage with about politics filled with hope?” I realize that ‘Hope’ is a tired word in politics, but it has real meaning for our common life – not just for Christian communities of faith, but for our national community, and the human community. Miroslav Volf defines hope as “love stretching itself into the future.” I think of Martin Luther King Jr. supplying Americans with a vision of hope – a picture of a national community where blacks and whites lived together as brothers and sisters. And he did this in a time when such a life was utterly unimaginable. That is love stretching itself into the future.
Regula #7: Be Prophetic
“Where there is darkness, [let us sow] light” We should be careful here. A friend of mine points out to me, quite often, that the prophetic voice rarely rises up outside the community he/she lives in. Thus the prophet is always speaking for a change in a community that he/she loves and lives in. The prophetic voice, often seen as a mere critic, always offers alternatives. Yes, the prophet names and shames darkness. But it also points toward light. Darkness must be named. And there is no better way to name and shame darkness than by simply living alternatively in the light. St. Francis of Assisi also, famously, said this: “Preach good news always, and when necessary use words.” The reason I offer the caution here is that the political landscape is full of critical voices – some even consider themselves prophetic. But true prophets always offer light and goodness in alternative to the darkness and evil. We don’t need another critic, we need another way forward.
Regula #8: Bear the Fruit of Joy
“Where there is sadness, [let us sow] joy” Joy is one of the more under-valued fruits of the Spirit. Joy is deeper than happiness, and the political reality of any society (democratic or otherwise) is that politics cannot provide either. At the very best, political make-ups of nation-states can only offer freedom to pursue happiness – not actual happiness. Thus there is an awareness that political structures can never provide happiness to all it’s citizenry. Furthermore, failed pursuits of happiness (and there are many in life) bear the fruit of sadness. This provides opportunity for good news. Joy is something we can bring to the political spectrum, especially in the midst of sadness. Creativity and imagination are demanded of us if we are to bring joy into the public sphere, and it is important for Christians to be discussing “how” they can go about doing this. But one thing is certain – if we are seduced by the political rhetoric of our day that serves to repudiate, reprimand, destroy, tear-down, demean, demonize and disrupt, we will never bear the fruit of joy.
Regula #9: Seek to Console
“Grant that we may not seek to be consoled as to console” Here we get the tough task of re-evaluating the “why” of our political convictions and agendas. Too often our political convictions come from a sense of moral superiority. The mere fact that we hold this or that conviction eases our minds about our own righteousness and thus serves to console our own hearts. However, much in the way that holding certain intellectual propositions in our heads about God does very little transform our hearts and lives, so it goes with political conviction. We need to be asking ourselves, ‘Who receives consolation as a result of my political engagement?” If no one or no-thing is consoled but our own sense of righteousness, then perhaps it is time we rethink the “why” of our convictions and agendas.
Regula #10: Understand Your Opponent
“Grant that we may seek to be understood as to understand” A tall order. Listen first. What if Christians listened to our political opponents? And not just so they can “feel heard.” But actually listened, tried to put ourselves in their shoes, heard their story, learned their perspective… and all this from a place of genuine love. Something tells me that this one simple rule would transform political discourse in America forever… should Christians live by it. This, if tried, may be revealed as the simplest in word and most difficult in deed of all the rules.
Regula #11: Love Everyone
“Grant that we may seek not to be loved but to love” Love is a verb, so they say. St. Paul would agree. He says in his letter to the Roman Christians: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved. Rather, leave room for God’s vengence, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’ says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I wonder, I imagine, what the face of American politics would look like if American Christians operated on this ethic of serving our enemies rather than doing political battle with them?
Regula #12: Give
“It is in giving that we receive” It is time for an evaluation: Do my political convictions serve my own interests, or the interest of others? Do my political convictions require sacrifice on my part for the flourishing of others? Or, are my political agendas self-serving? We need to ask those questions, for it is in giving ourselves away that we actually receive life (Mark 8).
Regula #13: Pardon
“It is in pardoning that we receive pardon” This, rule #13, simply reinforces rule #3. Forgiveness is the the defining and central ethic of Christianity. It does us well, as we make our way through our Regula for political engagement, to ask ourselves twice: “Are my politics, rhetoric, and methods of engagement marked by the ethic of forgiveness?”
Regula #14: Die
“It is in dying that we are born to eternal life” In a democracy, politics can never be about control the other. It is about making emboldened pleas that promote the flourishing and well-being of all and allowing the people to decide. In Christianity, control of the other is explicitly forbidden. We must always be dying to self and giving our lives away to the other, even if the other is our political opponent. We must give up the desire and need for control, which is only based on fear. It is time for Christians everywhere to trust God enough to die to self in the political arena for all to see.