In the fall of 2004, I was the “senior” United Methodist bishop in Ohio when Bishop John Hopkins moved into the neighborhood to assume leadership of the East Ohio Conference. He had just come from the Minnesota Conference after eight years of valued episcopal oversight.
I was privileged to participate in Bishop Hopkins’ installation service at Cambridge First United Methodist Church in mid-October. When it was time for him to speak, he stood before the congregation assembled in the grand First Church sanctuary and asked three questions:
Do you love Jesus?
Do you love your neighbors?
Are you registered to vote?
The congregation responded with generous acclaim to the first two questions. The third took them and me by surprise. Bishop Hopkins had everyone’s attention.
He went on to remind his new flock that as people of the Methodist Way, we are called to scriptural holiness, which has both personal and societal dimensions and expressions. The question “Do you love Jesus?” is a call to vital piety. The question “Do you love your neighbors?” is a call to mission and evangelism. The question “Have you registered to vote?” is a call to advocacy and justice.
Our Methodist DNA is to be formational—“making” or shaping followers of Jesus into devoted, obedient, mature disciples. Our Methodist DNA is to be evangelical—inviting persons into a saving, grace-informed, and loving relationship with Jesus. Our Methodist DNA is to be in mission—extending abundant life to our neighbors far and near. Our Methodist DNA is to be advocates—standing with those who hunger for peace and justice, those who hunger for hope. These strands of DNA are interwoven; they cannot be separated or broken, and they are our distinctive witness to the world.
By the time you read this, voting day will be drawing near (and in Minnesota, you can register at your polling place on election day). I urge you not to neglect the unique opportunity you have on November 8 to exercise your Methodist DNA as an advocate for God’s people.
This election cycle has been particularly partisan, bitter, bigoted, and uncivil. For much of the electorate, political affiliation has become indistinguishable from religious or theological affiliation. Some say preachers must endorse candidates. No, say others; that would violate their unique role as the moral compass for our communities and nation. And, what about those pesky IRS regulations? With both their personal integrity and paychecks on the line, many clergy and congregations feel trapped.
Many congregations tend to be inconveniently diverse in the political loyalties of their members and constituents. This is often particularly true in United Methodism, which has historically sought to bring very diverse persons to a common table unified by the overarching reality of God’s grace available to all.
In this bubbling stew of intertwined religion and politics, diverse political affiliations, and intense pressure to choose a side, one thing remains clear: Those who have been saved by grace and take the name of Jesus are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God. We may argue about whether or not this should or does translate into a particular political party affiliation. But we cannot argue that we are called to embrace and express the identity and mission that Jesus came to fulfill when he declared:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
When we take on the yoke of Christ through baptism and/or commissioning and ordination, we also take on this kingdom-building mission. We become citizens of the kingdom of God above all else.
So, as this election season builds to a crescendo, I ask you these three questions:
Do you love Jesus?
Do you love your neighbors?
Are you prepared to vote?
As United Methodists, we have a wonderful opportunity to express our DNA. I urge you to go to the polls. Go as a citizen of the kingdom of God. Go as an advocate for God’s children. Go to bring good news to the poor. Go to let the oppressed go free. Go to proclaim the Lord’s favor. Go to express your love for your neighbor.
May God’s kingdom vision and values find voice through those who vote and may God’s anointing be upon those selected to lead our communities, state, and country.
Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church