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Photo by Klaus U. Rouf, UMCommunications, Germany

The Rev. Hans Martin Renno

Voting as Christian discipleship: Sharp, alert, inspired minds needed

Hans Martin Renno
November-December 2016


Ed. Note: Germany will next hold national elections to elect a chancellor and a president in 2017. Read this article in German.

At the start of the Bible, God tells us to take possession of the earth (Genesis 1:28). We are instructed to care for and protect the Garden of Eden, respectively the earth (Genesis 2:15). God has entrusted us with the responsibility for life on earth and for what we do with the world as a whole.

The Old Testament prophets admonish and warn us to walk in the path of justice and peace. They criticize the abuse of political power by kings and armies. They demand just dealings in economic and trading relationships. They deplore corruption and nepotism in the courts of justice; peace and justice are their prime criteria for living together in personal relationships within the family and neighborhood and in society at large.

In the New Testament, Jesus gives us some glimpses of the kingdom of heaven. He tells of God's new world in the Sermon on the Mount, particularly in the Beatitudes. In God's kingdom, there will be joy, mercy, peace and justice, no suffering, no violence, no hunger and thirst, no persecution (Matthew 5:3-11).

Modern democratic civil societies as we know them today, with the possibilities they offer for participating in political processes with universal franchise for all levels of elections, were simply unknown in biblical times. No such structures were in place, not when the children of Israel were in exile in Egypt, nor as they entered the land of Canaan, nor at the time of Jesus.

However, we are encouraged by God's instructions to us in the context of the creation together with the deeds and sayings of the prophets. Both the promise of the kingdom of God and the message that it has been here since Jesus walked the earth and has been growing ever since strengthen us. As disciples of Jesus, we are challenged to face up to our responsibility and to take a proactive role in many different aspects of social commitment.

By becoming involved in social welfare projects and offering support and commitment to improving the lot of the disadvantaged, we bear personal witness to society of God's kingdom of love, peace and justice. When we exercise the right to vote that our forefathers and foremothers had to fight so hard for, we also take up our political responsibility for the way our country or city is run. A disciple's faith affects not just personal activities and behaviors. Faith also allows us to form an opinion as to how far the political attitude of the candidates and their campaign promises match up to the attributes of the kingdom of Jesus in terms of love, justice and preserving God's creation.

Disciples need a sharp and alert mind so that, based on their profound relationship with God, they can see and decide whether the political will and integrity of this or that candidate is compatible with Christian faith and with the ethics of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We should constantly observe and critically judge the political actions and decisions of candidates. The touchstones we use at election time should not be the friendly face, the stylish appearance or the confident self-assurance of the campaigner, nor his or her noble promises and definitely not the disparaging and insulting comments about the political opponent.

Examples of the key issues on which we could base our decisions could include:

  • What is the candidate's understanding of peace – world peace, peace in society, peace in the economy?
  • What does the candidate think about justice – here at home and throughout the whole world?
  • What does he or she think about the poor, the ostracized, the disadvantaged and the stranger?
  • How significant is the economy in the candidate's thinking? Growth and profit at all costs or an economy built on solidarity? What is the candidate's opinion about protecting and preserving the natural environment and natural resources?

I am convinced that when we go to vote for a president, for a mayor, for any government official, we accept our God-given responsibility and must take it seriously. We should do so with an alert mind inspired by the Holy Spirit, because we bear witness to the God of life who wants all God's creatures to enjoy the fullness of life, who blesses the peacemakers, who constantly offers and demands justice and who facilitates reconciliation and makes us free.

The Rev. Hans Martin Renno serves half time as head of the United Methodist Commission for Church and Society in the Germany Area and half time as pastor of Freiburg United Methodist Church in the southwest part of the country, in the Rhine river valley. He and his wife, Dorothee Schaefer-Renno, have five adult daughters. Jaqueline Rohmann translated the article. The Rev. Klaus Ulrich Ruof, director of communications for the Germany Central Conference of The United Methodist Church, coordinated the development and translation of this article.