This essay from J. Jioni Palmer is the fourth installment of our series on Christian citizenship, which explores how our values inform our voting decisions. View more in this series here »
Of the many scenes to emerge from the protests following George Floyd’s murder that have resonated with me have been the pictures of women holding signs saying, “All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his mama.”
These pictures remind me of the interconnectedness of humanity, in suffering, service, and survival. No mother or father, sister or brother, relative or friend would want such agony for anyone, let alone someone they know and love.
As I recall those images, I am reminded of the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested by Roman imperial authorities. Before he was taken into custody, he shared a meal with his disciples. But first Jesus took off his robe, a symbol of power and authority, put on an apron and proceeded to wash their feet—even of the one he knew had sold him out.
In that moment, Jesus’ actions served as a teaching example to his disciples and all others who call themselves Christians. It showed them what it means to follow him. Right there in the text Jesus illustrates that service to others is a divine and sacred act. To further make the point, he gives the disciples a new commandment, which is to “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:1-35).
Jesus illustrates that service to others is a divine and sacred act.
Being a responsible and discerning Christian citizen of the United States begins by examining how Christianity shaped and continues to shape our political, social, and economic institutions. It makes us ask and honestly answer if they function in ways that allows us to “love one another” the way Jesus loves us.
Every four years, Americans contemplate who we are as a nation and where we must go. This happens every day in many ways, but the quadrennial election of the president is a singularly focusing event, which allows all Americans to collectively decide what we want the country to be.
While the upheaval of our daily routines caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, social unrest sparked by racial injustice, and existing and growing inequalities across the board are top of mind for many as we head to the polls, these are only symptoms of an illness that has long infected the soul of America. It is a sickness that infected this land the day the first enslaved Africans arrived on North American shores, and today’s tumult, whether over policing or wearing masks, are examples of how the disease has metastasized.
Responsible Christian Citizenship in 2020 means taking a careful look at the theology and systems that produce and reinforce the conditions we contend with today. At the core of the American experiment is the belief that prosperity and good fortune are rewarded to the faithful, while poverty and misfortune are the consequences of sin. The noble, inclusive language in the nation’s founding documents about freedom and justice for all cloaks an ignoble and exclusive theology that only some are pre-determined by the Creator to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This version of Christianity provides the spiritual, political, economic, and legal defense for the exploitation, oppression, and annihilation of people and natural resources. The Three-fifths compromise, redlining, the absence of universal health care, family separation, and other policies resulting in the marginalization of people are all justified through this theological lens. Although dominant throughout American history, it has always been contested, particularly by those on the margins of society who were drawn to Christianity because they heard a message of liberation in the teaching, preaching, and healing ministry of Jesus.
At the core of Jesus’ ministry is a love ethic that extends beyond one’s “own kind” to include neighbor and stranger, oppressor and oppressed. From his encounters with the Canaanite woman to Matthew the tax collector to the washing of Judas’ feet, Jesus teaches us that to love one another we must have faith that the God in you is also the God in me. Love and faith go hand in hand.
At the core of Jesus’ ministry is a love ethic that extends beyond one’s “own kind” to include neighbor and stranger, oppressor and oppressed.
The love ethic of Jesus is rooted in this: as created beings, we are all forever connected to the Creator. God is just as much a part of me as God is a part of you. To not love yourself, and not love another, brings distance between yourself and God. Humanity is called to be in communion with God and all that God has created.
As Christian citizens we are called to practice an active faith. Not just simply in outward and vigorous displays of praise and worship of the Almighty, or by praying the problems away, but through service to each other. We must live as Jesus taught and commanded us to live. We must also vote in light of those teachings and commandments.
Christian citizenship requires rejecting poverty and hunger for others just as much as we do for ourselves. You don’t have to be someone’s mama or a mama at all, to hear the call and come running, because responsible Christian citizens see individual afflictions as collective anguish and act accordingly. Some may argue America is too broken to be fixed because the groundwork upon which this nation was built was so corrupted. Perhaps, but at least the love ethic of Jesus gives us a place to start. The mandate Jesus gives his disciple to wash each other’s feet is placed upon all who call themselves Christian, not just on Sunday but every other day—including Election Day.
Christian citizens see individual afflictions as collective anguish and act accordingly.