â€œClassesâ€ – small groups of members – were required to meet weekly In the early days of Methodism. Class Leaders would give their members paper tickets to certify that they were in good and regular standing, and those coming to the table to share in the Lordâ€™s Supper had to present their tickets to the Stewards to participate in the Sacrament.
In some election years, Iâ€™ve compared voter registration cards to Class Tickets, and asked that members come to the Lordâ€™s Supper with their voter registration cards in hand. A Steward in one of my former pastorates was adamantly opposed to that symbolic act of voter encouragement. He called it a perversion of Methodist practice and an act of sacrilege that cheapened the Lordâ€™s Supper. It was only when I politely stood my ground, reminded him that it was only symbolic and that no one would actually be denied the Lordâ€™s Supper that I found out why he was so opposed to the idea – he was a Trustee of the church and well into his sixties, but he wasnâ€™t registered to vote.
I found that to be amazing, but not surprising. Some church folks draw a line between religion and other aspects of life, political life in particular, and restrict their religion to what happens in Church School and Sunday worship, in Bible Studies and Prayer meetings, to acts of charity and to the necessary transaction of church business. If we are to be Christians instead of simply church members, however, we have to do better.
Christ commissioned us to make disciples and bring new sheep into the fold. That work is easier when those we reach out to can consider their spirituality without worrying about whether they have jobs, whether theyâ€™re fairly treated, whether they have health care or adequate housing, or whether their children go to decent schools. All of those important aspects of our lives are influenced by those elected to make laws and set public policy. If we ignore what happens in the voting booth, then we deny Jesusâ€™ added admonitions that we be the â€œsaltâ€ that gives life a better flavor and that we see to the well being of those that He labeled â€œthe least of these my children.â€
Drawing a line between our religion and the rest of our lives also desecrates the memory of our spiritual ancestors, for the historically black church did not operate in a spiritual vacuum. The historically black church served as the schoolhouse, the social service agency, the recreation center and the place for positive mentoring. The historically black church also served as a catalyst for positive political and social action in the days when many avenues of political participation were closed to people of color. To deny that heritage and not affirm it by what we do today is to turn a blind eye to and refuse to address the needs of the present age.
Drawing a line between our religion and the rest of our lives also endangers our well being and threatens the gains made by the mid-20th century civil rights movement, for those who forget their history are often doomed to repeat it. Godâ€™s people found that out when they forgot their days as slaves in Egypt, focused on the comforts of the Promised Land, refused to truly serve God and found themselves living as conquered exiles in Babylon as a result.
People of color had civil rights during the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, but lost those rights when former slaveowners regained political power at the end of Reconstruction. The civil rights gains of the 1960s eliminated barriers to voting like private political parties, poll taxes, property ownership and literacy tests. A new generation of mean spirited and bigoted political leaders, however, is trying to turn back the clock of progress by enacting laws to require photo voter identification and to promote harassment of those thought to be illegal immigrants.
Weâ€™ll soon go to the polls in Charleston to elect a Mayor and City Council, and I encourage every registered voter to go to the polls – for thereâ€™s no such thing as an unimportant election – and encourage those who arenâ€™t registered to register and vote in the future. To fail to do so is a sin of omission, for if we sit out any election, we let others choose those who will see to our well being. That ainâ€™t Christian, and that ainâ€™t right.