As Orthodox Christians we bear witness to Christ in all dimensions of life. This includes participation in civic life, where as citizens of this country we elect into office those who aspire towards the work of public service on both the local and federal levels.
We do not deny that the democratic electoral process is a wonderful gift given to us as citizens of the United States. We thereby vote for those whom we feel would best govern our lands according to the values and principles we esteem as believers.
As we approach the upcoming Election Day, it is beneficial to be reminded about several key issues regarding the Orthodox Church and its role in the social and political life of its faithful.
1) The starting point of our political involvement as Orthodox believers is a paradoxical one, which is that in relationship to the gospel of Christ, we have no absolute political “affiliation.” The true home of every Orthodox Christian is the Kingdom of Heaven, which in this age, stands over and above every earthly state. That the Kingdom of Christ is the only Kingdom that truly “reigns,” even in this fallen age, is why we pledge to it the totality of our lives. For as long as we live in this age, we are sojourners while on this earth and the only city (“polis”) that we can thus claim as our truest home is the Jerusalem from above – the “Heavenly Jerusalem.” “But the Jerusalem that is from above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4:26). The lives – and deaths – of all the Holy Martyrs testify to this fundamental teaching regarding the true nature of Christian citizenship.
2) In light of this, we should also refrain from permitting our worldview to be shaped or compromised by any social or political ideology, be it “conservatism,” or “capitalism,” or “liberalism,” or “libertarianism,” or “progressivism,” or “socialism,” or “feminism,” or “pluralism,” or “egalitarianism,” or “or any other “ism” whatsoever. Instead, the core beliefs, values, and morals that govern how we envision the “way things should be” in this world are shaped uniquely by the life and witness and teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church, which according to St. Paul is the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timonty 3:15). Again, St. Paul writes, “See to it, brethren, that no one takes you captive through philosophy or empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians, 2:8).
3) Even so, this does not infer nor does it suggest that we as Orthodox Christians must completely divorce ourselves from participation in the civic life of the countries in which we live. We are in the world, yes, but we are not “of” the world. This means that we no longer belong to the world (i.e. the “society of men”), nor do we adhere to its fallen values and ideals. [For] I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:14,15).
Yet as long as we each are living in our own country and place, we do whatever we can in order to bear witness to the saving truth of the gospel. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16). Understood from this perspective, as Orthodox believers we are entitled to participate as fully as we possibly can in the social and political life of our country, especially when it comes to the work of the Church’s philanthropy. Members of the Body of Christ are likewise commanded to show our respect and give honor to those in political office, (See 1 Peter 2:17), and to pray for them during the Divine Liturgy – whether we agree with their political policies or not.
4) Here in America, the idea of separation between Church and State as envisioned in the Constitution does not mean that those of us who profess faith are to be excluded from political discourse simply because our societal sentiments are explicitly religious – as some currently assert. Separation of Church and state simply means that there will be no official “state church” that functions as a spiritual and moral guide of its people, as is the case in many European countries. (E.g., as the Anglican Church is in England).
As such, we are responsible for bearing witness to the truth of Christ in the public sphere, no matter how unpopular such a truth may be. We must not be silent in the face of injustice. We must never be afraid to speak against any disruption or violation of the public good. The Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in North America recently expressed the same by saying, “We call for responsibility by individuals, institutions and governments to ensure the welfare of every citizen. We must safeguard the sacrament of marriage in accordance with God’s will for the sacred union between man and woman and the sanctity of family as the fundamental nucleus of a healthy society. In this regard, we emphasize regular family worship, particularly at Sunday liturgy. We must strive to eliminate the violence proliferated against innocents of every kind, particularly of women and the unborn. Likewise, we must resist the wastefulness and greed that dominate our consumer society, confessing that our spiritual citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3.20) in order that our witness be characterized by the compassion and mercy as well as the generosity and philanthropy that distinguishes our God who loves humankind.”
In short, it is our duty to work towards the “leavening” of our American culture by promoting all that is holy, true, righteous, noble, beautiful, and life-giving. Orthodox Christians have engaged in this kind of positive witness in whatever lands they have dwelt for almost 2000 years, which is the legacy of St. Constantine and Helen, St. Vladimir of Russia, St. Sava of Serbia, St. Kosmos Aetolos of Greece, and St. Herman of Alaska, just to name a few.
5) Finally, as Orthodox Christians we should resist the fanaticism that some display in their politicking, whether it is on the “right” of the “left.” The Orthodox Church deplores those who use extremist language in order to advance any type of hateful, racist, or xenophobic ideologies. St. Paul writes, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer one another.” (Colossians 4:6). As American citizens we have the right to free speech, but this should never give us the leeway to vilify or slander ones neighbor simply because he or she may stand for a differing political view. Dialogue between political parties concerning social issues, mores and laws should remain open, forthright, and considerate.
As Orthodox believers we strive to do what we pray: to work for the peace and reconciliation of all human beings, beginning with our own families and in our own homes.
May God bless our nation with His peace and righteousness.