Not long after the 2012 election, I was speaking at a pro-life event. I warned the audience I was about to ask some difficult questions.
"First," I asked, " is there anyone here who does not believe that abortion is an intrinsic evil?" This being a pro-life affair, of course no hands were raised.
“Okay, next—is there anyone here who does not believe that participating in an abortion is
an intrinsic evil?” Again, no hands. Smiles were beginning to emerge. This wasn’t such a tough exam, after all.
“Now a little harder one—is there anyone here who does not believe that encouraging an abortion is an intrinsic evil?” Again, no hands, bigger smiles.
“Okay. a little tougher now—is here anyone here who does not believe that permitting an
intrinsic evil is to participate in it?” These were people who knew their Moral Theology, and of course no hands went up.
“Great so far. Now, the toughest one: How did you vote?”
The sound of lifted eyebrows filled the room.
A small group off in one corner applauded. One young person cheered. For the most part, though, the reaction was shock—and even some hostility.
Now, all of us—and by “us” I mean Christians who gather in places like this--are holy in the abstract. We all know what to believe. We all know what we should do. Given an exam, we will pass it with flying colors. But challenging how we actually behave, especially at a "rally the troops" event--well, that crosses the “polite preaching” line. It’s fine to preach about sin. It gets a little sketchy, however, to suggest someone in your congregation or audience might actually be sinning.
That, however, was not really the problem, here. These were good people with well-formed consciences, most of whom had probably indeed voted Pro-Life.
The problem was, “Father’s talking politics.”
Yet, I wasn’t, was I? I was talking morality. More than that, I was talking what we Orthodox call Praxis: the outward, practical expression of our interior life; or just plain, “doing what we believe” (see James 1: 22-25). Morality, after all, is more than the ability to pass a Moral Theology exam. It is how I act in response to what I know in theory. That’s what makes the external life important.
“Let my action proceed from the overflow from my contemplation” is a cornerstone statement of a serious prayer life. It has, however, a corollary: Our contemplation should overflow into action. Serious Christians seek to live a life propelled by prayer. However, there must be something that prayer propels.
If I reflect on the value of life, for instance, and am filled with Divine insight about our Divine calling and destiny and God’s all-embracing concern for the least of us, and then go out and vote for a candidate who advocates, or at least refuses to vote against, the slaughter of infants in the womb, what does that make me? At the very least it makes me a Christian who is impeded, and therefore diminished, by a confused and inconsistent life.
Note, I didn't say "Christian life." If I am a Christian, I have by definition abandoned any
"other life." My life is a Christian life. The only question is how consistently I live it.
After all, if the real truth—the real value—the real worthwhile and desirable behavior—lies in Mammon, what am I doing hanging around with God? If my idea of "practicality" is to give allegiance to that which defies God, how solid can my allegiance to God be?
To a Christian, a balanced life means my interior and exterior lives are consistent. My interior life must be sound and well-formed, rooted in prayer and solid doctrine. My exterior life must reflect that: not only in the way I behave in church, or the cordiality with which I deal with people on a daily basis, but in the ways in which I encounter and respond to “the things that count.”
Where do I put my money? Where do I put my time, the precious minutes God has given me in a world bound by the clock? Jesus points out that we put our treasure where our heart is (Matthew 6:21).
Who we send money to and vote for is, to a Christian, not a political, issue. If “right” and “wrong” were flexible things, it might be, but they are not. No matter how successful I may be in getting people to agree with me that one or another sin is perfectly fine, it will not be. It will remain a sin, and therefore not fine at all. What happens in politics does not stay in politics, any more than “what happens in Vegas” won’t turn around and bite me when I get home.
Whether I'm in a voting booth or in the middle of the Nevada desert, I am still me. And so, every day, the admonition, “decide this day whom you will serve” is what I wake up to.
Watch for Part III, coming soon!