Voluntary Restraint

Some of my readers will be pleased to read this and some perhaps not so much. I am placing myself under voluntary restraint on Facebook. On my blog, sailingtowardwisdom.blog, I will continue to publish sermons I have preached and articles I have written, but never of partisan political nature, though some may deal with political matters.

Why? When I was a pastor at Brunswick Church, I wasn’t on Facebook, following wise counsel. I pastored a congregation with wonderful diversity, including wide political diversity. I didn’t want any of my political convictions and leanings to shape the congregation in a partisan way—I certainly didn’t want the congregation to be just like me. Every Sunday that I led the pastoral prayer, I mentioned those in governance, usually mentioning the president by name. The Bible leads me to do that. In my preaching I touched on politics, but never in a partisan way. I think the Gospel has a political edge to it. It speaks to how governing should work. The Gospel and politics share some concerns: how people treat other people, how law and mercy are balanced, how life is honored, how the needy receive care, etc.

When I retired, I went on Facebook. Along the way, I used the newfound freedom of my retirement to post some political statements and thoughts, usually written by me, but sometimes taken from others that I respect or whose thoughts I found worth pondering. I sifted those carefully, seeking to be fair and gracious, while speaking from my convictions. I expect that I failed that self-imposed test at times, for which I ask for forgiveness from those that I caused unnecessary offense. I did not post anywhere near half of what I was tempted to post, writing a good number of articles that never went public. Writing helps me to think through matters, so I always am writing and that will continue.

As of this day, I am entering a discipline of voluntary restraint, largely because in a short time I will join a church staff as a quarter time pastor. That means that, as in years past, I will be serving a congregation of healthy diversity—and I want it to be so. I don’t want to cause any unnecessary offense by my political views. I want to be faithful to the Good News (gospel) of Jesus, my Lord. In my preaching and teaching I will continue to touch on matters political, as I understand and am compelled by the scriptures, but never from a partisan perspective.

I am writing this just a few days before the 2020 election. It is a time of heightened rhetoric and tension. I will vote consistent with my convictions, but I don’t want to add to the political tensions in our nation. To the contrary, I want to be a person of grace and understanding, not putting aside or denying my convictions, but holding and expressing them in ways that are respectful of those holding different convictions. After all, I could be wrong. There is a quote I need to re-read from time to time: “I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken.” (From Oliver Cromwell to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on 3 August 1650, and later quoted by American Judge Learned Hand.) This is not always easy for me, but this is my goal. Whatever the outcome of the elections on Tuesday, I will pray for those that win and those that lose. I am an American patriot. I care about my country. I want it to be the best country it can be, which means I cannot overlook its errors. I have no illusions about its many flaws, historically and currently. And I hold to its highest ideals.

I am not leaving Facebook, because I appreciate the way it allows friendships to continue and grow, and for the many and varied perspectives that are expressed there about most everything. Granted, I skip some posts after two or three words because I find them offensive or inane. But I find many posts worthy of my time and thinking.

This development in my life, mentioned above, was not something I was seeking, but I am absolutely thrilled about it and have a deep sense of calling as I move into it. I didn’t know retirement was going to be so enjoyable! Some friends wonder if I am working too much in retirement. I appreciate their concern, but I respond that all I am doing in retirement is of great meaning to me (and I hope to others) and fits this season of my life really well. If that changes, I will make adjustments. I am grateful to God for the measure of good health and energy that I am experiencing, beyond anything I deserve. That may change at any time—any pastor knows that, as we minister with people at every stage of life and in every circumstance; we know well that life is filled with unfairness. And we know that life is filled with wonder. I take on this discipline of voluntary restraint as a good development for me in this time of my life. If you find that I fail to honor this, it was probably done in a weak moment. Be gentle with me.

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