On the Folly of Endorsement

Recently I read that a prominent Orthodox bishop spoke at the Democratic Convention, giving the benediction and endorsing the Democratic candidates for the next American Presidential election. Given the Democratic Party’s emphatic support of abortion and the LGBQT agenda, one wonders why his words did not include a prophetic denunciation of the slaughter of the unborn in that country or the sin of homosexual practices, given that his church is clear that both abortion and homosexual practice are wrong. But rather than dwelling on that obvious head-scratching anomaly, I would like to focus on the folly of the Church endorsing any political candidate.

As the American election looms ever closer, a little voice inside my Canadian head tells me that the smart thing for me to do would be to hide under the bed wrapped in the Maple Leaf and wait for the cannon-fire to die down. It is true that there is much about America and its politics that I do not “get”. It seems to this outsider that America is badly polarized politically at the present time, and that people are shouting angrily at each other. Maybe all the shouting is taking place on Facebook, and outside the online world, everything is calm. But if things are as badly polarized as my peek at Facebook suggests, it becomes all the more important for the Church to tread more carefully than it seems to be doing.

I am, please note, not suggesting that citizens of a country should not have passionately-held political opinions, or that they should not make them loudly known—though even here I would point out that one can speak both loudly and civilly at the same time (and of course, non-violently). Christians are citizens of an earthly land as well as citizens of heaven, and as long as our earthly homeland allows and encourages political debate, we should avail ourselves of this freedom. (And we should be thankful for it too, since not every citizen throughout the world has this freedom.)

Rather, I am speaking of the Church as church aligning itself with a specific candidate. This alignment gives the unmistakable message, both to the world and to its own members, that a truly Orthodox person will vote for a particular candidate, and that failure to vote in this way in some way reflects bad faith or disloyalty to Orthodoxy on the part of that Orthodox voter. This is rarely the case. Usually politics is so varied and the issues so complex that men and women of good faith and clear conscience can be found on both sides of the political arena. It all depends on which issues one chooses to focus upon and which set of goals one prioritizes.

One is tempted to say that the Orthodox Church has had a long history of cozying up to Caesar—witness to the use of the word “Caesaropapism”. It is true that use of this word is often overdone in western sources and critiques of Orthodoxy. But it would be futile to deny that they do have a point (see, for example, the essay “The Patriarchate of Constantinople and the State” by Speros Vyronis Jr. in the 2005 volume Orthodoxy and Western Culture). What was theoretically a symphonia of cooperation between Church and Imperium too often became the Imperium pushing its own agenda on an overly-passive Church. The Church, of course, did not simply roll over all the time. Sometimes bishops like St. John Chrysostom pushed back. But this was a comparatively rare occurrence, which is perhaps why bishops like John Chrysostom were canonized in the first place.

And anyway, a President (or a Prime Minister) is not an Emperor, since the former is elected in a way that the latter is not. The Church’s cozy relationship with the Byzantine State did not represent a partisan choice in the way that an episcopal endorsement of a Presidential candidate does. I suggest that the Church, as church, should refrain from endorsing political candidates during election time, and for the following reasons.

First of all, such an endorsement instantly divides the Orthodox faithful, since it suggests that a truly loyal, sensible, and clear-thinking Orthodox Christian will vote in the way that his or her church says they should vote. And surely there is enough to divide us already? Jurisdictional squabbles, variant liturgical practices, differing calendars—surely we don’t need yet another thing to fight over? Especially in 2020, when the blogosphere is lighting up over (of all things) the use of multiple spoons at the Liturgy. The hierarchs, if they can’t get everyone to calm down, can at least refrain from doing more to stir everyone up. Their task is to rightly define the Word of truth—a task which when accomplished unites the faithful—not to push political agendas, which inevitably divides them.

Secondly, endorsing a candidate inevitably means that we share the sins of the candidate as well as his virtues. Remember St. Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy 5:22: “Do not lay hands upon any one hastily and thus share in the sins of others”. The idea behind this apostolic directive was that the local church should not ordain its leaders hastily, for in that case it would share responsibility for the mistakes and sins committed by the hastily-ordained leader. It is similar with political endorsement: if the Church as church contributes to and enables the election of a candidate, to some degree it also shares the responsibility for all that person does afterward—both the good and the bad. That responsibility is properly borne by the voting citizens as individuals, not by the Church. If the candidate the Church helps to elect later does bad things, this will reflect badly on the Church as well. A lurid twentieth century example of this can be found in Germany in the 1930s. But less lurid examples are not hard to find in any century.

Finally, endorsing a particular candidate constitutes a failure to recognize the eschatological nature of the Church. The Church, as church, is called to higher and less ambiguous goals than political ones. Bluntly put, the Church is supposed to be above such things. If we align ourselves with a particular party, candidate, or cause, we run the risk of identifying ourselves with that politician’s goals when in fact we have an entirely different goal—that of calling all men, whatever their politics, to Jesus Christ. And we lessen our evangelical effectiveness too, for someone passionately attached to the candidate we do not endorse may well reject our proclamation of the Gospel because we have become tainted in his eyes through our political affiliation. Here it does not matter a whit whether the candidate the Church endorses is good or bad; the point is that a soul may be lost to Christ because of our political endorsements. That would be bad. Effective evangelism trumps good political action (no pun intended).

Recognizing the eschatological nature of the Church and that her citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) should give us a much-needed perspective on the politics of this passing world. The things over which we argue are important, but not ultimate; they are ephemeral, not eternal. Eventually all the cannon-fire of this world will die away, including the cannon-fire generated by our politics. The Church’s orientation and its message must be one the things that remain and will never die away. Endorsing one candidate over another too easily involves wrapping ourselves in a flag of this world. That would be a mistake, for on the Last Day, all flags will burn. Only the Kingdom of God will remain, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of this world

16 comments:

  1. Sometimes, I think God’s chastisement comes in the form of bishops. Orthodox Christians need to wake up and smell the incense, so to speak. Being in the Church, I dont believe this automatically means that we shouldn’t speak up, with discernment, against bishops who err, whether theologically or “politically.”
    Please pray for the Greek Archdiocese of America; those of us in New York are especially grieved by the actions of our Archbishop, who continues to insist on closing our churches and forcing presbyters into early retirement.
    Also being in the Church doesn’t mean automatic grace, necessarily–that we are somehow all “safe and sound” that we don’t have to still be vigilant and careful to guard ourselves and preserve what has been carefully handed down to us by the deposit of the the Holy Spirit, Scriptures and Fathers.

  2. Thank you so much, Father. I am in tears during this election cycle and have removed myself from FB due to all the yelling. I pray daily for healed hearts and souls and that we will remember to not put our trust in earthly leaders

  3. Well said, Father. I remember how the GOA bishops in 1988 stated that Michael Dukakis was a faithful member of the Church (contrary to the evidence), which caused some loud dissent within the Greek Orthodox community.

  4. Father, unfortunately you view of politics especially here in the US is anachronistic. We no longer have civil politics. The “protesters” in the streets are burning, looting and murdering often with impunity. The Democrat party has aligned itself with these “protesters”, abortionists and those who practice genital mutilation of children to “change their sex” among other horrendous socially destructive policies. The GOA is insane to align themselves with such anti-Christian ideology and practice. The GOA has gone further being in full support for the avowedly Marxist and occult BLM. One of the leaders of BLM recently confessed to she and other members of her group actively “calling on the spirits of the dead” for assistance. That is the demons.

    It seems to me that the Church has long been in opposition to everything the Democrats support nowadays from our inception in fact.

    What is going on here in the US is a civil war in the making with many of the large cities of this country acting as “Bleeding Kansas” did in the run up to our first Civil War.

    As an Antiochian, I am particularly blessed because as a priest friend of mine (who transferred from the GOA) recently stated all of the Antiochian bishops believe. The GOA is fast sliding into apostasy. It is neither subtle nor hidden. They are also going broke.

    If you do not want to publish this on your blog, I understand. However, you owe it to yourself to become more aware of how far off the reservation the GOA has gotten. Being polite and collegial with the Greeks at this juncture, even in Canada will not come to good.

  5. Since the delegates are not vying for the highest office in the US, there wording doesn’t make much sense. Theodore, wouldn’t a charitable reading of the archbishop’s prayer concede a missing word in his ad-lib, perhaps also conceding that English is his second language?

    1. Augustine, …And he has no sense at all of US politics. He actually thinks he can replicate the Archbishop Iakavos moment walking with Martin Luther King. Jr. over Edmond Petis Bridge by walking with declared Marxists and occultists who openly despise white people and think the color of one’s skin is the content of their character. They have no compunction about taking advantage of useful idiots which they have done in this case and it gives the deluded Archbishop tingles like Obama did for Chris Matthews. There is nothing in the Democrat political insanity that any thinking Christian can support. You do know that Joe Biden’s RC Bishop long ago excommunicated him? Excommunicated him because Biden supports the wholesale murder of babies. Wake up people. There is no possible reason for AB Elpidiphoros to endorse the Dems except hid own narcissism. He is a disgrace.

      1. Just a quick reminder that this blog is not about persons but issues. Please do not veer off into a discussion of the relative worth of individual hierarchs. Future discussion along this line will not be posted.

  6. Orthodoxy has had little influence on American culture, so it has been safely outside of American politics. Unfortunately, the price of having a voice in American politics is to endorse candidates and party platforms. Sure, you can chastise both sides and propose a different option, but that just sets 80% or more of the country against you and you end up like our Libertarian Party, whose symbol is the porcupine, and whose candidate never wins more than a percent or two of the vote. Republicans and Democrats both appeal to their own coalitions of heterodox and it’s hard to find a candidate who doesn’t somehow offend the Orthodox conscience. It’s a bit like a choice between caesaropapists and papocaesarists. Orthodox churches should remain as islands of relative sanity. I don’t see how anything improves after the election. I figure it just gets worse in a new way. Orthodoxy should be a light for when all other lights fail.

  7. You are confusing a benediction with an endorsement.

    https://www.stbasil.com/news/2020/8/20/consecrating-demagogues?fbclid=IwAR3N5lqX8CT4zg4dgJVbm6LEgPY4Wnljh1RYbegbNBfdrDT1VbpozMuEz_A

    “Whether the person receiving a prayer of blessing is a Democrat, or a Republican, or a Libertarian, or an Independent, or a member of the Green Party, or whatever else might be out there…as Orthodox Christians, we are to ask for God’s blessing upon any and all of them, not as an endorsement of everything they believe and say, but rather, to prayerfully ask that they be elevated to a higher purpose…to fulfill God’s will, because ultimately, politics aren’t what will save our nation, but rather, unity with God. “

    1. It amounts to the same thing. For the Metropolitan to pray, “We pray that you will shine the light of your countenance upon the delegates of this convention and upon Vice President Joe Biden for the highest office in the land” constitutes in the minds of anyone listening his endorsement of Biden’s bid for Presidential office. Most people cannot distinguish such hair-splitting distinctions; for them the Metropolitan’s prayer with its reference to “the highest office in the land” will be understood as endorsement, and in politics perception is everything.

  8. Father, I am sorry, I took advantage of your hospitality. I have seen the observation recently by one Orthodox commentator that politics in the US has become a form of pornography. All of the adrenaline and ego inflating “virtue signalling” stirring up our passions in a similar way. To enter into such a viper’s den even forewarned and with weapons is not a task for the faint of heart. Exactly why your thesis of this thread should be followed. The angels themselves have like abandoned all but the most fearless guardians. Demons have well and truly taken hold. The corrupting lure of power or even the whiff of power too much to resist.
    Dante’s sign over the entrance to hell might be appropriate: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”
    The parties only differ in the approach. Freedom only lies in union with Jesus Christ through confession of our sins, real sins not made-up guilt trips; not false promises of a return to a greatness that never was.
    “All are punish’d and heaven doth find means to kill our (earthy) joys with (false) love.
    Unlike Romeo and Juliet what we are living through is a deep and real tragedy. None of us are spared. We need the full medicine of the Church for only. Deep and sincere repentance for our own worldly naivete will begin to save us.

    Lord have mercy.

  9. I follow you,Father,in a desire to hide under the bed wrapped in a New Zealand flag because we are having an Election too. Both major parties seem to my eye to have unhinged leaders ,with followers who will not allow debate. We are all in some kind of Lockdown and imaginations run riot when we feel we cannot go out except under defined conditions . People express themselves rather to freely on line,too. It will soon be in the Past,though and some new crafts and assaults of the devil will be upon us. Good Lord deliver us.

  10. Thanks for saying this, Father. So true. On a related note. It saddens me when I have contact with a fellow member of my Orthodox church (not as often in these COVID-19 days) when politics intrude (even though we at least are quite civil to each other). Don’t we already have enough to be and to do as Orthodox Christians, without gratuitously wading into such matters? We should do what we can to avoid becoming centered in this-worldly partisan political tribalism.

  11. Ross, so we should give in to the secular idea of the secular vs spiritual? My sons thinks that the Church should ex-communicate any one who runs for or holds political office because of the inherent approval of and participation in evil no matter the party. Maybe it is about time for the Church to “intrude”.
    The problems we have are not amenable to political fixes. They are susceptible to repentance. Maybe we should have services of morning and repentance for our sins, personally and corporately for our wallowing in mammon and think there is any difference in the color of the mud.
    The mud “intrudes” to the core of every soul.

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