Tithing and Voting: A Rector’s Reflection (for the November 2016 parish newsletter)

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A “Rector’s Reflection” offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston in the November 2016 issue of The Epistle, the newsletter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

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livinggenerously2Living Generously!

I wrote in a recent weekly parish up-date email about disciplined generosity and liberation, and made reference to prayer that has been in Episcopal and Anglican Prayer Books for generations:

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tithing is a way of living a disciplined and generous life without fear of any adversary and trusting in God. It is a way of claiming that perfect freedom which God offers us.

Tithe, a five-letter word, is as close as you can get in the Christian church to a four-letter word – mention it and Christians rise up in protest! However, it is Episcopalian. At the 1982 General Convention and at conventions ever since, the following resolution was passed: “The tithe is the minimum standard of giving by Episcopalians for God’s work.” Tithing is a way to live a life of disciplined generosity.

Each Sunday, we pass the alms basins and give our offerings. The question we all need to answer for ourselves and our families is: “How much should we give out of all that has been given us for God’s work?” As that General Convention resolution says, our church uses the standard of “the biblical tithe” as the minimum guide for our giving. I pray that that standard is now our standard, or that we are moving toward that tithe. When our ushers pass the collection plates among us each Sunday and we place our offerings to God in them, I hope you will consider the tithe to be your minimum standard for financial support of God’s work, because we do believe that we are doing God’s work here at St. Paul’s Parish.

The vestry and officers, as well as the pastoral staff, ask you to live generously, with disciplined generosity, to support this congregation so that all of us – leadership, clergy, staff, and members – may continue in the tasks and ministries we are given. We thank you for choosing St. Paul’s Parish as your primary way of returning to God a portion of what has been given to you.

As important as the work we do through the church is, another and better reason to live generously, giving a tithe or working toward it, is that it is liberating. A former suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Charles L. Longest, described the benefits of disciplined generosity this way:

God is the source of all things. God calls us to be accountable, as any steward is accountable, for all the things that God has given us. We are accountable for 100 percent of all that we have in our possession. That means all of our time, our talents or gifts, and our money. Tithing helps us to manage better that 100 percent. To be able to tithe absolutely requires that we learn to manage well all that we have and all that we are. Every one of us can learn about money, about ourselves, about God as we grow in our ability to be good stewards of all that God has given us.

Financial guru Dave Ramsey, whose Financial Peace University has been offered here several times, says of tithing and disciplined giving:

Giving liberates the soul of the giver. You never walk away feeling badly. Whether through a tithe, charitable contribution, or gift to a friend in need, give away at least some of your money. Not only does it generate good, but it generates contentment. *** Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people.

And, Ramsey says, unselfish people are better, freer people!

Live generously and live into liberation! As that ancient prayer in our Prayer Book says, God is the author of peace and lover of concord in whose service we find perfect freedom. Tithing is a way of claiming that God-given liberation

ballot-boxThe Up-Coming Election

Early this month will be Election Day, November 8. All elections are important, but a presidential election seems especially so. I believe that voting is more than a privilege, more than a right. There is, I believe, an ethical, moral obligation to vote. It is, for me as a Christian, an exercise in stewardship. We have been given this country and it governance by our forebears and we have the obligation to participate in its democratic processes, preserve it, and pass it on to our children, grandchildren, and more distant descendants.

As your pastor, it is not my place to champion a particular candidate or party. It is my place to share with you how I understand our shared faith to impact my vote, how I try to apply the Christian faith to my electoral responsibility.

Recently, for another purpose, I wrote an essay entitled My Religion Is My Politics in which I said that, because my faith impacts my political decisions, I cannot “keep religion out of politics” as some of my secular friends argue. Here are some factors I consider in voting:

  1. The Old Testament law commands, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34) I believe I am obligated by my baptismal promises to vote for candidates or parties most likely to treat resident aliens in this way.
  2. The prophet Micah told us that what is required of us is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) I think it irrelevant to our secular system whether any candidate “walks humbly with God,” but it matters to my politics as a Christian that I do so and cast my vote in a manner that reflects that. Thus, it matters to my politics which candidate’s or party’s platforms and policies come closest to doing justice and loving kindness.
  3. Jesus was once asked, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” And he replied “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39) Thus, the way candidates or parties treat other people is significant. Again, I think it irrelevant to our secular system whether any candidate follows the first of these commandments, but it matters to my politics as a Christian whether he or she comes close to living up to the second.
  4. Jesus suggested that the Father blesses those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit those in prison, and turns away those who fail to do such things. (See Matt. 25:32-46) I vote for those candidates and parties whose platforms, proposed programs, and policies come closest to accomplishing those things.
  5. When Jesus was arrested, one of his disciples drew a sword and cut off someone’s ear, but Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52). I believe I should vote for the candidate and the party less likely to make use of the modern day equivalent of a sword in our country’s statecraft and international diplomacy.

I do not vote for religion to have a place in American politics. I need not do so; like it or not, it already does because it informs the vote of many of the electorate, including me. I am voting in accordance with my understanding of the Christian faith, because my religion has a place in my politics. My religion is my politics.

I encourage you to wrestle with these and the many other issues that our elections present us. I encourage you to vote according to your conscience as it is informed by your understanding of our shared faith in Jesus Christ.

Mostly, I encourage you to vote. It is a right; it is a privilege, and, I believe, it is a sacred duty.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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