Political neutrality is the Orthodox Church’s official policy. The Orthodox Church as a religious Institution does not involve in any aspect of the process of secular elections. The Church is a spiritual Mother who unites her children (no matter if they are believers or unbelievers). For this reason the Church cannot belong to any secular political party and the holy canons forbid an ordained person from holding public office.
We are approaching an important election this week. All presidential elections are important, but few have been this close or this polarized.
Those of us who seek to live and act in a way that is consistent with the life and theology of the Orthodox Church do well to reflect upon how we will act on November 3. Some Orthodox I know believe that the only way an Orthodox Christian could possibly vote is Republican/Conservative. Others whom I know have exactly the opposite impression.
Where do we find ourselves in the political landscape today? There may not be a single answer for all Orthodox Christians, but we can at least clarify the questions.
The relationship between Church and State has always been a delicate matter. History has seen experimentation with many possibilities, and the truth is that none have really worked. There is too great a variety of religious views among the governed and the governing. Looking at our own faith, Christ never set up a system of governance, but rather acknowledged that there is Caesar and there is God, and that we owe a different kind of obedience to each.
Neither is there any one system of governance, be it monarchy, democracy, socialism, communism, or theocracy, which the Church would sanction as such to be the Christian way of establishing and maintaining a state. It is also quite evident that, given history, geography, and culture, different kinds of government are appropriate in different places. The Church isn’t non-committal in this sphere; it has taken stands against forms of government, such as authoritarian, dictatorship or anarchy, which are unacceptable to Christianity.
But Christians are not ipso facto socialists, capitalists, or monarchists. And much as we Americans are accustomed to the logic of democracy, democracy is neither the way in which the Church governs itself, nor is it the only or the obvious Christian kind of state government. Christians are Christians, and that makes us people who have to decide in each particular case what best meets the criteria of Christian life.
All of us are called to be “not of this world” and yet also to be “in the world,” and the way in which those two are balanced in our own lives will vary.
Orthodox Christians are called to take a stand on matters that affect how people live and how they are treated, and on how the natural world is treated. We are called to care about, to arrive at, and defend principles in terms of our fundamental beliefs. To Vote!
The question of whether to vote is much easier to address than the question of how to vote. Part of our problem here is the nature of the options before us.
Politically as well as theologically, many conservatives will use “liberal” as a swear-word, and many liberals return the favor. We Orthodox Christians often consider ourselves to be a conservative church—and so we are, when we compare some of our theological and ethical principles to others. Our key doctrines about God and about Christ, as well as our positions on human life and human sexuality, are based on principles whose absolute and unchanging character are repulsive to some other so-called Christians.
On the other hand, Orthodox theology and ethics admit a freedom that can seem downright liberal. I recall a conversation with a certain Presbyterian whose positions on matters of church and ethics alike were far more “liberal” than I as an Orthodox Christian could accept. But when she started talking about her belief in the “total depravity” of the human person, our Orthodox voice began sounding to her like the more open, the more joyous, the more free. More generally, our approach to ethics and the canons, provides a unique blending of absolute principles with particular, personal applications which can never be branded as sheer conservatism.
The terms “liberal” and “conservative” have only a limited use. Orthodox Christians should not let themselves be pigeonholed into either category, either within Orthodoxy, with regard to the wider Christian landscape, or politically. Our province is not conservatism or liberalism, but truth – God’s Truth.
This still leaves the question of how we are to position ourselves politically. And here we are placed in a serious bind for two reasons. One is that there are some questions for which Orthodox Christians are so far unable to identify a single right answer.
For example, we have been divided as to how to approach the war in the Middle East, and both sides have offered sound theological arguments. We do not often take two sides of the same fence, but the living character of our Church does allow it to happen.
The bigger reason for our difficulty in siding with one or another political party is that the parties today each advocate unacceptable positions alongside admirable ones. Considering the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person, we must consider each party’s positions not only on abortion, but also on capital punishment, war, and human rights.
We need to look at each party’s position on education and the environment. Each party must be examined in terms of how wealth is distributed, especially in terms of what effects will be felt by the nation’s poor. We need to examine the candidates’ views on ethical and bioethical issues such as stem-cell research, euthanasia, HIV/AIDS, and same-sex marriage.
The voting Orthodox Christian today is effectively stuck being either a “Reluctant Republican” or a “Reluctant Democrat.” We are, as is often the case, left with a choice between the lesser of two evils. This doesn’t take us off the hook, for we must choose. We have a compass to guide us in our choice and that compass is our understanding of Christ’s Gospel and how it is lived in the world.
When a citizen, who is also an Orthodox Christian, votes, their decision must be conscious and deliberate, and the result of prayerful consideration. Every Christian has a compass to guide him in his choice and that compass is his understanding of Christ’s Gospel and how it is lived in the world.
It’s us, the committed and believing remnant, which can and must spread the biblical worldview in this critical election season.
WE MUST STAND FOR — Family Values, one Husband one Wife, Man and Woman; Abortion – the murdering of the unborn is unacceptable to any Christian; religious freedom to worship as you believe – the Bible is the Word of God, we follow Christ’s Gospel;
In our Gospel reading today, St Luke, chapter 8, Verse 15 we read: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
Vote your Orthodox Christian Values on Tuesday!!
If you already cast your vote, I pray that you prayed and cast your vote for Jesus the Christ.
To we celebrate the feast day of St. John of Kronstadt, he stated, “in hell there is democracy, in heaven there is a kingdom”. So today we stand in God’s Kingdom. Make your vote count for Him.