Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Preachers, Politicians, Vision

Yesterday, after I preached a guest sermon at Unity Temple, a woman shook my hand and told me she was hoping that Barack Obama was elected President so I would not have to go to Iraq. When I said something like “Well, we’ll just invade somewhere else” she chided me on not having enough hope.

Don’t get me wrong, I find it wonderfully refreshing that a politician is trying to win an election with a message of hope and a positive vision of the future. From the days of my political science undergrad degree I have wanted to see a politician try something other than “fear and goodies” in a campaign. It is also amazing to see an election with four candidates, each with such different campaign strategies: McCain with “fear and goodies”, Clinton with “goodies and fear”, Huckabee with “they are evil, we are good”, and Obama with “hope and change”. All four have a long history… we just have not seen much “hope and change” in recent days.

But in the end, they are all still politicians… Obama included. Worse, the three with real chances to win are a particular breed of politician… Senators. I’m not sure serving in the Senate is the best experience for someone to become President, and until recently it seemed the American people agreed with me. We have not elected a Senator to become President in decades. Now, it seems we have no choice but to do so.

I don’t want to offend any of the supporters of any of these campaigns, I hope to malign them all equally. Simply put, my issue is that I will not rest my hopes for the future, my desires for peace, the spread of my ideals and values in the hands and promises of a politician.

My wife will be happy… with those two sentences on my blog I have effectively given up any career in politics…

And yes, I am supporting one of these four for President… I’ve just made the decision not to do so on a blog that so obviously identifies me as a military officer. That, and my supporting that person is not that big a thing for me… because political campaigns seem to me to be more smoke-screen than substance.

Last year, after guest-preaching an Earth Day sermon on global climate change, a man came up to me after the service and asked when I was announcing my campaign for public office. Now first, this is not a good way to compliment a preacher… and I have made some changes in my pulpit presence since. But, in the moment, an answer came from within my depths, unbidden.

“Run for office?” I said, “I became a preacher and not a politician because I wanted to keep my soul.”

A quick laugh, and a little uncharitable of me… but it pointed to the real reason why I am not a politician. I have the background for it. Soldier, degree in History and Political Science, Intelligence Analyst, family history of government service, Eagle Scout, good public speaker, and an intentionally publicly led life. I can not count the number of times some party official (of three parties, no less) have mentioned that if I wanted to run for local office, the door would be open to me.

And it is certainly not that I am apathetic to the huge, looming issues that our nation, our world is facing. The passion that fuels my evangelistic Unitarian Universalist faith is a passion for a world transformed… where we care for our planet, and for all of those on it. Where human rights really are self-evident. Where homeland security has as much or more to do with good education, fair employment, shared economic prosperity, equal treatment before the law, and other issues as it does national defense and border security.

The vision I believe in for a world transformed has all of this and more as a part of it… I have just realized that I cannot depend on the promises of politicians to have much to do with fulfilling that vision. Creating that vision will not happen in the arena of politics, or on the floor of the Senate, or in the Oval Office.

It can only happen, it will only happen, in the hearts and souls of individuals, reached one at a time, with a religious vision of right relationship, interdependence, and inherent worth. Thus, I am a preacher, not a politician. Thus, my hope is found in faith, not in politics. Thus, I depend on people of faith, not on elections and votes.

Someone said to me recently that they were worried they would not be able to deal with life if the Democrats lost the election. We are placing our faith in the wrong place.

I am not saying don’t work for, don’t support politicians who share at least something of your religious vision for a world transformed… I myself may well be out knocking on doors and placing road signs when the general election comes around. What I am saying is that politics is not the place to invest your hopes and dreams.

Living in a democracy is not about voting once every four years, like you are choosing what you want off a menu and expecting to get what you ordered. Democracy is really not about elections at all. Democracy is about each and every one of us working, sometimes together, sometimes against one another, to create a world that is in line with our vision of how things should be… and to do so in ways that do not involve shooting at one another.

Practicing democracy requires three things… having and developing a vision about how you want the world to be, working continuously to make that vision a reality (well beyond elections), and an agreement to do so within a non-violent system.

It is the vision that matters, not any particular campaigns or candidates… No politician can keep to a vision for long, because of the necessary compromises a politician must make to succeed… We of faith are the keepers of that vision; it is up to us to call them back to it. The religious conservatives certainly know this… and if we religious liberals do not remember to craft and continually preach our vision for a world transformed, we will find ourselves drowned in their cacophony.

And so, I am a preacher… not a politician. I just wish Mike Huckabee knew the difference between the two.

Yours in Faith,


3 Thoughts on “Preachers, Politicians, Vision

  1. David,

    Well stated. I am continuously amazed that people don’t really understand their rights and indeed responsibilities in a democracy. Our documents start with “We the People…” That’s you, me and everyone else. Our leaders cannot do what we do not really want them to do. If tens of millions of Americans were to demand something be done about war and peace issues, it would be done. They would find the political will in Washington to do so.

    As an example, when the Terry Schiavo family crisis occurred, the legislators rushed back to Washington literally overnight to be able to make a vote that they thought their constituents wanted to see, such was their sense of purpose. Only afterwards did they realize their blunder as the backlash from folks demanding privacy in such delicate family issues occurred. So, they can move when urged to do so.

    Unfortunately, the vast American public is kept numbed by the “bread and circuses” strategy and our democracy suffers in the meantime. I am encouraged by the signs of recent participation in the election and hope it inspires all to stay tuned and continue in their efforts to make this country something that we can be proud of once again vs. feeling shame and embarrassment. I think that is what being a patriot really means. And it does indeed take working on these goals every day and in every way.

    Respectfully submitted,

  2. If the woman at your sermon really didn’t want you to go to Iraq, she should support your former congressman from Texas, Ron Paul. He’s the only one that advocated pulling all the troops out.

  3. Ah, Monte…. good to hear from you!

    Yes, I know … us former Galvestonians can always claim that Ron Paul was our congressman. And, though I know the libertarian vision is one that still inspires you, having lived here on the South Side of Chicago I now have a pretty good idea what a disaster libertarianism would be if it ever did come to pass…

    I hope you are well… email me sometime!

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