Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, pg 822
As the political campaign season grows ever longer and strikes me as being more akin to something to be endured rather than something which illuminates and inspires, it helped me to read this collect and remind myself why, as a Christian, it matters that we go through this process.
Reading through our collect for a national election, it is interesting to unpack what it contains. The opening reminds us that God holds us to account for our powers and privileges. Consider what powers and privileges you have received from our government for a moment. We spend so much time arguing over particular issues that we sometimes lose our appreciation for the whole.
I have the power and privilege to vote-something my female ancestors a hundred years ago did not have. I have the privilege to walk down a street in my neighborhood and feel relatively safe, to have confidence that the police are there to help me and not to hurt me, to know that the hospital nearby would give me excellent care if I had an accident or a disease. I have the power to speak out freely through sermons and blogs and influence people in how they believe, think, and act. And I have the power to recognize that not all of my fellow-citizens have those privileges, and the ability to take actions to remedy that sad fact, so that when I am called to account for all my powers and privileges, I can stand before God with a clear heart.
We pray in the collect for guidance as a people in our voting. I like that we're praying for guidance for all of us, and that we're not asking God to guide us to a single best candidate but to guide us so that whoever is elected will protect the rights of all "through faithful administration and wise laws." Our governance must be faithful, not to God, but to the citizens, and faith is something that we
understand in the church: doing things in good faith means that you may make mistakes, or try out policies that are unsuccessful, but it is in faithfulness that we honestly look at our work, admit fault, and try harder the next time. A faithful government is one that is willing to change, willing to accept and model sacrifice, and to put the needs of its citizens ahead of its members' individual interests.
Wise laws endure and produce benefits for the citizens, protecting the rights of all, and not just the powerful or wealthy. It harkens in my ear to our baptismal covenant: "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" to which the response is, "I will, with God's help." Our rights, justice, peace, and dignity depend upon those whom we elect. I sometimes wonder what would happen if the members of congress and our political leaders could actually follow that portion of our baptismal covenant just among themselves-if they could strive for justice and peace among themselves, and just respect the dignity of their fellow office holders. Our political life would be far less divisive if they could model that for us. One of thehallmarks of being a Christian is that we believe that things can be different; we believe that people have the capacity to treat one another with dignity, and that divisiveness is not a foregone conclusion.
Finally, the collect closes with the notion that "our nation be enabled to fulfill [God's] purposes." For those of us who advocate for a separation of church and state, and those who acknowledge that the United States is not currently (if it ever was) a Christian nation, viewing our nation as an agent of God's purposes might be alarming at first. But this is a place where scripture is illuminating. In the Hebrew Bible, many nations are used for God's purposes, not just Israel. For instance, it is the Persian Empire that God uses to restore Israel and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after the exile. What I would envision as God's purposes for our nation-to be an exemplar of justice, peace, equality, dignity, happiness, health and fruitful labor-are well in line with those outlined by our founders and even politicians today.
I invite you to join with me in praying for our nation as we approach this year's election; pray for the candidates and their families; pray for those who will be most affected by the outcome of the election; and pray for a spirit of humility, graciousness, thankfulness, and wisdom to inhabit our elected officials and our nation as a whole.