The Time is Now for the ‘Election Sermon’

White Male with Gray Hair and Glasses Wearing Clergy Robe and Green Stole in Church Pulpit

Decades of discourse
led by lawyers,
scientists, economists,
and we are stuck.
They can’t do what must be done:
reach the human heart. (1)

When it comes to addressing the crisis of democracy as well as the climate emergency, what we need to do is reach the human heart. That’s exactly what congregations, clergy and people of faith are good at. Throughout history, driven by a desire to be faithful to God, people of faith have called upon their gifts, their abilities and their soul-force to address many of the failures of our public life. Engaging public life is as important as any purpose of the church, the synagogue or the mosque.

God-faring people of faith can no longer be silent as the climate crisis unjustly destroys the lives of the most vulnerable on Earth — those who did the least to cause it — those we are called to love and care for. We can no longer ignore the disinformation and lies perpetrated by corporate profiteers who focus only on maximizing quarterly profits as they wreck the Earth for all future generations. We (in the developed world) can no longer carry on our normal lives as if living our lives was not the cause of the sixth great extinction.

In 2024, public life in the United States will be dominated by the run-up to the election. A little-known fact of American history is that for 250 years (1634-1884), one of the ways congregations engaged public life was to hear an election sermon. As an election approached, houses of worship would fill with citizens eager to reflect on the moral qualifications of those running for office. Today, though, it is likely that little to nothing will be said about the election in many, perhaps the majority, of our houses of worship.

It’s time to reawaken this moral witness. During my 20 years serving as a local pastor in two congregations, I preached many election sermons. Two months before the election, I often asked my congregation to share with me materials that they thought might be helpful as I shaped my election sermon.

While the many election sermons I delivered were obviously political, they were never partisan. I never endorsed a candidate, and rarely mentioned them. Instead, I did my best to provide my congregation with what I discerned to be timeless moral principles that should guide our political decision-making — principles that are not only rooted in our faith tradition but are also supported by every faith tradition I know of.

The first principle concerns each candidate’s past record and current promises about how society and government must care for the least of these among us. In God’s eyes, each person is of equal worth. Our duty is to establish a form of government and elect representatives who will uphold the worth of each person.

The second principle involves discerning which candidate is most likely to preserve and advance justice while promoting the common good. This principle can be found in every religious tradition. God urges us to enlarge our unit of care and concern beyond self-interest and promote the common good.

The third principle assesses which candidate’s proposed policies and past practices take into consideration the integrity of creation — the care for our common home — for all of humanity and for future generations. Which candidate will offer the courageous leadership needed to expand the relevant unit of survival from the boundaries of our nation to the Earth as a whole, and extend the relevant time frame from the quarterly reports of corporations to the ancient measure of the seventh generation?

The fourth principle affirms Gandhi’s assertion that the means are the ends in the making. Which candidate’s advertising, endorsements and other means of campaigning reveal someone who tells and adheres to the truth? Someone who can be trusted to use the proper moral, legal and constitutional means once the full power of their office is conferred?

These moral principles are no less relevant today than when I preached them decades ago. With very little editing, clergy from any faith tradition could make these principles the core of their election sermon and support each principle with scripture from their tradition.

In addition to providing these timeless moral principles, I would emphasize our sacred responsibility to vote. Voting is the means by which we elect leaders and advance laws that can and should underwrite the principles I have listed.

The upcoming election presents every congregation and every clergy leader with an opportunity to identify the values and principles that guide us, as people of faith, when we consider our “life together” as residents of our state or country.

Let’s be clear: we are not called to be bystanders. We are called to be engaged in our communities in truthful ways that amplify love and expand justice. And a crucial way to demonstrate our engagement is to vote.

Houses of worship and people of faith need to examine how our community, our state and our nation address the needs of the least of these among us; how we assure and advance justice; how we promote the common good; how we tell and adhere to the truth; and how we preserve and restore God’s creation. These are core values of the church, the synagogue and the mosque — and politics are the means by which all of these values are upheld.

Christians recognize that in almost every chapter of each of the four Gospels, we see Jesus urging the community to address the needs of the least of these among us. We hear Jesus passionately advocating for justice and promoting the common good. His commitment to truth is unwavering. In these ways and more, he is amplifying the message of the Hebrew prophets. It’s long past time that people of every faith tradition recognize that their God, by whatever name, calls them to preserve and restore creation.

All of these activities are political because they involve how people relate to each other, how people govern their lives together. Jesus, like the prophets in every tradition, tells the truth as he seeks to amplify love and expand justice in families, in towns and throughout the empire.

Soon, we will have the opportunity to faithfully exercise our sacred right to vote. I pray that every congregation and every person of faith will look to these principles as we examine our choices at the ballot box in the coming election.

Thank you for all the ways you are already addressing both the crisis of democracy and the climate emergency, and may the God of many names strengthen your resolve to amplify your witness.

Click here to read the full blog posted by Third Act.

Check out ecoAmerica’s Get Out the Vote resources here.

(1) Excerpt from “New Consciousness” by James Gustave Speth, featured in Speth’s recent Orion article, “You Say You Want a Revolution.” Here is the complete poem:

Decades of discourse
led by lawyers,
scientists, economists,
and we are stuck.
They can’t do what must be done:
reach the human heart.
The deep problems are
avarice, arrogance and apathy,
our dominant values gone astray.
We need not more analysis
but a spiritual awakening,
a new consciousness.
So bring on the preachers and prophets!
the poets and philosophers!
the psychologists and psychiatrists!
Bring on the writers, musicians, actors, artists!
Bring on the dreamers!
Call them to strike the chords
of our shared humanity,
of our close kin to wild things!
Call them to help find a new world!

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