We sat together, inches apart, confident Jesus would hear our prayers. Others prayed with bowed heads and hearts in their groups of three, also seated in the opulent room at the governor’s mansion. Their voices competed for my attention as I attempted to hear every word my prayer partners lifted successively to God’s ears.
As they prayed, I searched for moments where my soul could say Amen. Those moments came, but there were times when my soul’s silence was a kind of protest. Though we shared our precious faith, we did not altogether share the same politics.
With the presidential election approaching, I knew that it would somehow be part of our supplications. I prayed for all elected and appointed officials—from President Barack Obama to Gov. Phil Bryant and Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., and our City Council. I asked God to grant them wisdom to govern with compassion and justice. It was a bipartisan prayer, one that did not reveal my concerns over all electoral politics or my hope that Obama wins four more years.
Others were more courageous. As they prayed for God to raise up political leaders who loved him, I recalled the Mississippi Southern Baptist Convention’s commercial that implicitly endorsed Mitt Romney. It was clear that he was the candidate many in the room believed shared our “Christian” values. Their lamentations about infanticide and gay marriage, the decadent and immoral drift of our nation, the cold war against “success” resounded in many of their hearts if not out loud.
I was relieved when the prayer-team leader invited us to our closing prayer. We huddled around the governor, laying hands on each other’s shoulders. Dolphus Weary closed with holy and humble words. His offering was a reminder that Mission Mississippi was on an evangelistic mission to cultivate spiritual friendship across racial, denominational and political lines so that the church can proclaim the gospel to a lost world without reservation. It is insufficient, yet indispensable, work reconciling folks who should already be unified through our baptisms. Old idols die hard.
Mission Mississippi is ecumenical but appeals largely to the pan-evangelical world. Sadly the term “evangelical” has become synonymous with white conservatism and the GOP. The reality is that evangelicalism is not monolithic, though the media think otherwise. Much of my formation as a Christian has been in predominantly black Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal churches born in the fires of evangelical revival. Despite different doctrinal accents, most of these churches share a common religious lexicon and inventory of religious experiences. I get it when politicians talk about being born again (Carter and Bush II), or speak in a rhythmic cadence of southern preachers (Obama). Like most of the believers during that morning’s prayer breakfast, I embody and promote many “traditional” family and community values.
I, too, am a values voter.
The problem is my values go beyond two issues. My political vision is comprehensive, too wide to fit easily in a two-party system like ours. Neither Republicans nor Democrats fully represent my values. I don’t expect them to.
Some on the Christian right are no longer complaining that Mormonism is a cult, instead throwing their support behind Mitt Romney. They are praying that he wins to restore America’s status as a Christian nation. My Anabaptist sensibilities revolt against this nationalistic heresy. To me, there is, and has always been, only one Christian nation. It is called the church, the people of God called from the world to live in the world as citizens of another kingdom—God’s kingdom. When Christians put their entire faith in government, politicians and policies, they have confused the nation-state with the kingdom Jesus said is not of this world. To confess by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is Lord is the beginning of a nonviolent revolution against the empires of this world, even our beloved America.
I’m theologically pro-life from the womb to the tomb: The sacred lives we cherish in the womb are lives that deserve equity and fairness out of the womb. I believe, like Marvin Gaye, that war is never the answer because only love can conquer hate. I don’t believe in the death penalty because vengeance belongs to God; the Lord will repay. I believe that being pro-life is to love justice for all, especially the least of these.
Sadly, both parties deal in cultures of death. Neither party is the kingdom.
Evangelicals will vote for values Nov. 6.
When I vote for Obama—for a second time—I will be doing so as a values voter.
Rev. CJ Rhodes, a Hazelhurst native, attended Ole Miss and Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, where he earned his master’s of divinity. Installed in July 2010, Rhodes is the pastor at Mount Helm Baptist Church,.