Pastor Eugene Brueggemann
Editor’s Note: Following the recent US election, a Lutheran Christian raised a question in an online discussion forum about voter identity. Here is Pastor Gene Brueggemann’s response:
Like you, Scott, I have many labels/identities. I am an aged white male, a widower, a father, a grandfather, a St. Louis-Seminary grad, a retired pastor who has lived in Ohio, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Colorado. I’ve been a Republican (voted for Dewey), a Democrat, an Independent, a middle-class American, a driver of a Ford, a Studebaker, a used Mercedes, and a VW. I’m an Indians fan.
Like St. Paul who lists his various IDs in Philippians 3, I find my surpassing worth (my most important ID) as a disciple of Jesus Christ. So do all of us who bear the name of Christ. Our primary citizenship is in his kingdom of suffering love. In that kingdom, the gospel is the power-center of our lives and it frees us (John 8) to make this-world choices on the basis of the law of love (in “perfect liberty,” as St. James puts it).
It should go without saying but say it I will: We are in but not of the world. In the world, we are called to be salt and yeast, suffering servants of others for the common good. Political parties operate in the kingdoms of this world for what they define as the greater good. They stumble and fumble and fall, but that’s not all. They sometimes reflect that they are God’s instruments (Romans 13) for good, whether they know it or not. Some Christians withdraw from political action altogether (Mennonites/Amish), but we believe God has called us to get our hands dirty in the nitty-gritty business of government. If our consciences guide us to see one party or the other as an agency to advance what our consciences tell us is good (it will never be perfect), we are free in Christ to join that party. We respect and affirm other Christians’ decisions to join other parties.
You ask, “How can you identify as a Democrat?” Officially, I’m an Independent, a carry-over from active ministry days when I did not want a party label to impede my ministry. Eisenhower was the last Republican I voted for president, and I voted for Rumsfeld as representative (also for some Republican governors). I follow my conscience. Your question suggests that you can’t believe that a good Christian can vote Democrat. Your conscience leads you one way, and my conscience may lead me another. It’s not a confessional issue, it’s a political judgment.
Abortion is a moral issue these days for many Christian voters, as is social justice. In previous years, it was slavery and booze. Conscientious Christians can and do disagree on the way the government should define it and address it. We should do this in conversation, study, and prayer within the Christian community. Ours is an evangelical-Lutheran community. There are a number of open questions about abortion. The law of love leads different members of the church to different decisions. We are free to choose one party or another in political action surrounding abortion. Or no party at all. We are not free to disassociate from brothers and sisters in Christ in wrestling with these issues. Above all, we must try “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in the kingdom which is “not of this world.”