Notes from Jan

Is The Church in the USA on the Ballot?

November 7, 2022

For starters, I’ll state the obvious. No system is perfect, nor any political party or candidate. But still, VOTE. It’s a right and a privilege. And it matters. Especially, when both extremes question the viability of our democratic form of government.

Consequently, extremes remind me of the Church and ways some are too wedded to politics and power. It puzzles and unsettles me. And, judging from my circle of friends and family, confuses too many outside any church or religious affiliation. What is the place of the Church in society? Have we left space for grace?

Which brings me to Dean Pedersen’s Sunday School class yesterday. Dean led us to consider how to “Agree and Disagree in Love.” We, within the Church, too often contribute to the lack of civil discourse. We’re failing Listening 101. In class, Dean asked us to define the difference between a response and a reaction. I thought, “Sometimes it’s just a matter of a few seconds before speaking.”

Still, we work at winning arguments, getting the last word, and exchanging truth to get what we want. Consequently, our strident speech takes a toll on relationships in homes, churches, as well as on national and global levels. So what or who determines how we vote? Oscar Wilde wrote, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” What do I want? What does someone else need? Or our country?

Philip Yancey reminded me in Grace Notes of a G.K. Chesterton quote. “While a coziness between church and state may be good for the state, it is bad for the church.” Yancey continued, “Herein lies the chief danger to grace: the state, which runs by the rules of ungrace, gradually drowns out the church’s sublime message of grace.” (p. 357)

Which leads me to ask, “When I go to vote tomorrow, does The Church have a place on the ballot? Also, does truth matter anymore? And what about grace?

Which is why I’m grateful our choir, accompanied by flute(Thanks, Liz) and organ, filled the sanctuary with the sounds of Amazing Grace yesterday. We need reminders, nudges to offer to others what we’ve received for no earthly reason. And who hasn’t sung as personal truth, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Finally, Yancey instructs, “The church works best as a force of resistance, a counterbalance to the consuming power of the state. The cozier it gets with government, the more watered-down its message becomes.”(p.357 in Grace Notes.)

So, after all the votes are tallied, winners and losers known, may we, who identify as Christians, be recognized by our dialect of grace. Not everything is worth a war. Or a win.

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  • Reply Niffy November 7, 2022 at 7:30 pm

    Wonderful blog! I pray for grace every day but especially tomorrow.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 7, 2022 at 9:48 pm

      Oh, how I love seeing your name pop up, dear Niffy. You were such a wonderful part of our years living on Martel Road and a good friend to Heather.. Thank you for staying in touch.No matter the outcomes tomorrow, grace always wins over incivility. May you and your family flourish in North Carolina.

  • Reply Dale November 7, 2022 at 7:51 pm

    Thanks Jan. I listen to a Trinity Forum event this week called “How to be a patriotic Christian” with guests Richard Mouw an Paul Miller. One key point was patriotism is loving our country and wanting it to succeed, while Christian Nationalism is believing God loves our country more than any other. Their advice is to have gratitude but not pride and humble ourselves rather than elevate ourselves as being God’s chosen people – only one of those. Interesting at election time. Blessings, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 7, 2022 at 9:57 pm

      Thanks, so much Dale, for this important distinction. It’s the Christian Nationalism that alarms me. I think highly of the men you quoted and the unique ministry of Trinity Forum. Richard Mouw is a man of grace and wisdom. And you’re a dear friend. I’m grateful for ways you add to the blog with your insights.

  • Reply Mark D Taylor November 7, 2022 at 8:44 pm

    Jan, thanks for reminding us of the tenuous relationship between church and state. And as James Madison once wrote: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 7, 2022 at 10:15 pm

      Amen! Thank you, dear Mark. Philip Yancey wrote of some of the limitations of government and our need for obedience to a different set of laws. ” State government ..can arrest and punish KKK murderers but cannot cure their hatred, much less teach them to love…it can give subsidies to the poor but cannot force the rich to show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness, cheating but not pride. It can encourage virtue but not holiness.” (p.357 from Grace Notes) I appreciate your thoughtful response and addition to the blog.

  • Reply Dr. Patrick McCary November 11, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    Jan, What a powerrful message……Thanks!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 11, 2022 at 1:06 pm

      Great to hear from you , dear Pat! I always love it when your name or Diane’s pops up on my screen. Hope you’re doing well in Colorado. Always grateful for our years together at Michigan State and connections since then. Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Reply Jan Carlberg November 11, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Great to hear from you , dear Pat! I always love it when your name or Diane’s pops up on my screen. Hope you’re doing well in Colorado. Always grateful for our years together at Michigan State and connections since then. Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Reply Nancy Mering November 15, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    I appreciate your comments, Jan, that have prompted others, including the Mouw and Yancey very important statements. All Christians need to keep being reminded of these foundational perspectives.

  • Reply Jan Carlberg November 16, 2022 at 9:38 am

    Thanks, dear Nancy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “We miss you at Christ Church!!” But I’m happy for your daughter and Grands to have you closer in Maine. You excel at being gracious, while holding high standards for honest dialogue and addressing issues within and outside the Church, Nancy. Which is part of why I’m thankful for you and David. His parents blessed Bob and Helen Carlberg for decades. Please thank him for me.

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