Sheep of one shepherd
Published 11:30 am Saturday, November 12, 2016
by Andrew Book
As a Christian and an American, I, like many of you, have had my eyes fixed upon this week’s presidential election. I was up until the early hours of Wednesday morning watching the results come in and managed to keep my eyes open until Donald Trump had finished his victory speech. As the results of the election have come back, one number has stuck in my mind: 80 percent. Over 80 percent of those of us who are white and consider ourselves to be “evangelical” or “born-again” Christians voted for Donald Trump.
An evangelical or born-again Christian is someone who takes our relationship with Jesus seriously. We have declared that Jesus is Lord of our lives and we will follow him above all else.
We take the words of Jesus in John 10 seriously. In that chapter of scripture, Jesus declares that he is the good shepherd and says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (10:27). We are sheep who follow obediently, and the one we follow is Christ.
As those who are deeply committed to Christ, our votes are one way that we express our faith. We take what we know about Jesus and the things that matter to him and we let those issues, concerns and questions guide us as we go to the voting booth. But here’s where things get tricky. Jesus is not on the ballot. Most, if not all, of the candidates usually claim that they too follow Jesus. So, we find ourselves in the place of seeking to decide which of the issues and people who are on the ballot best represent our faith in Christ.
We are called to follow our shepherd as we cast our votes, so that means we need to know what matters to Jesus. Jesus himself declares this well when he offers his own mission statement (quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah).
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus’ words, and the ministry that followed, made a priority of caring for the poor, the captives, the blind (and those who are otherwise sick), and the oppressed. Take some time to read the story of Jesus’ life in one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) and you will see these concerns at the front of Jesus’ ministry.
These were his priorities as he lived as an example of faith while he walked the long and lonely road to the cross. So, when I approach the ballot following my shepherd, those concerns are at the front of my mind. I do not, however, see those concerns at the top of Donald Trump’s agenda.
If those are the concerns of Christ, and not the priorities of Donald Trump, why did more than 80 percent of white evangelicals vote for Trump?
The question can be boiled down to a single issue: abortion. For evangelical voters, abortion is often the top issue. In fact, for many people, it is the only issue that matters.
For many years, I was one of those voters. I was what they call a “single issue voter” and I only supported pro-life candidates. Then my wife had an experience that transformed by thinking.
My wife worked for a time for a lawyer who spent much of his energy as a Republican lobbyist. One day she told me about a conversation this lawyer was having about Christian voters. He boldly and brashly declared that evangelical Christians are sheep, but not sheep who follow Jesus. Instead we are sheep that follow a label: “pro-life.”
He believed that a candidate simply needs to declare, “I am pro-life” and evangelicals will vote for that person. The candidate doesn’t need a history of supporting unborn babies and they don’t have to do anything to support the cause of life once they are in office, they simply need to say it.
I was blown away, not because I could disagree with him, but because I realized that he was right. I was a lazy voter, a sheep, who simply followed the “pro-life” label regardless of who said it and whether they were truly committed to caring for the most vulnerable in society. In that moment, I resolved that I would be a sheep of one shepherd, Jesus, and all others would need to prove their worth through devotion to Christ’s ideals.
You have probably guessed by now that I did not vote for Donald Trump. When he threw his name into the hat last year, I looked at who he was, how he had lived out his values throughout his life, and what things he had meaningfully supported: life for those who are weakest and most need our protection (whether unborn or born!) was nowhere on that list.
Trump’s business model has been to seek the most profit at the expense of those who would not be able to oppose him, so when Trump followed a pattern I expected in claiming conversion to both “evangelical” and “pro-life” causes (causes the lobbyist knew would get him votes), I held on to my skepticism. I am still skeptical today.
Donald Trump now has the opportunity to show what truly matters to him. I would like nothing more than to write a retraction to this column in four years, admitting that I was wrong, but there is nothing in Donald Trump’s history to lead me to believe I will be wrong. There are parts of Trump’s platform that I like. I hope he acts on those and serves this country well as president, but I will be surprised if that happens.
No matter how well Trump does as president, I will continue to do my best to be a sheep with one shepherd: Jesus. In so far as his policies, plans and actions line up with the concerns I see in Jesus, I will celebrate and support them. In so far as his policies, plans, and actions deviate from the call of Christ, I will oppose them and work to care for the poor, the captives, the sick and the oppressed (including the unborn).
I share all of this with you now, after the election, because I long for us all to be constantly refining what it means to be sheep who follow Jesus. You have cast your vote. Regardless of who you voted for, the election is over — and the next season for our nation is beginning. Follow one shepherd. May that shepherd be Christ and may Christ guide you to live out that which matters most to him in your voting, in your conversations, and in your actions — regardless of what goes on in the White House.
Courtland United Methodist Church
• Nov. 13: Tithing as Thankfulness and Worship in an “I’ve Earned It” World.
ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.