Today is election day in Colombia. All over the country today citizens will be voting for their local mayors and council members as well as their departmental (think States…sortof) Assembly members and governors. Ever since I arrived in Bogota I have seen the publicity for various candidates around; my weekend in Turmeque (a pueblo close to Bogota) I even got to see one of the mayoral campaign trucks blast through town. Needless to say it’s been a big build-up, and given the deep-seated corruption within much of the government, the presence of “narco” and “para-politics” (aka the buying or coercion of elected officials by big-wig narcotrafickers and/or paramilitary groups), it is also a very tense time as much (if not more) filled with skepticism and fear as it is with hopes and aspirations. (Please keep in mind this is based almost solely off of my personal observations and conversations.)
In Medellin this weekend was “dry”, which is to say that the Saturday night before the Sunday of elections it was illegal to drink in public establishments, most of which were consequently closed. President Manual Santos has encouraged all citizens to vote their conscience and in support of the most honest candidates. But what interests me, given my current work, is how the churches have responded.
The ISP, or peace sanctuary churches network I’m working with here, are not yet organized or unified enough to have a statement or policy around how Christians should or shouldn’t think and participate in this sector of life. The AMEM, however, which is the Medellin association of Evangelical churches, recently sent out a memo reminding its members of the need to be both involved in politics so as to promote Christian values at the highest levels, and the need for unity in promoting specific candidates. It warned against their past tendency to associate any involvement in the political world with “worldliness” as well as the shame of selling votes to just any candidate for personal gain. My experience with the evangelical culture here has been that voting is now seen as an inherent part of a Christians’ duties as a responsible citizen.
In my church this morning, we heard about how God continually speaks to the nations, often through prophets. We looked at the story of Jonah specifically, jumping to Apocalypse for a brief point, and ending up with Proverbs 29:2 “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice;
when the wicked rule, the people groan.”
“ Do you think God is speaking to Colombia?” the pastor asked. “Do we want to thrive or keep groaning?” He encouraged all to vote, and to vote their conscience. Then he gave space for three different people to make announcements related to the election: one to say that she was volunteering with the only Christian council candidate (who’s picture is up on the bulletin board at the back of the church, though I’m told it’s for information’s sake and not a statement that members need vote for him) and those planning on voting for him could get a ride with her to the polls, and two others to encourage the congregation to vote for candidate X.
Now. Those who know me will know that I feel quite uncomfortable with a lot of that. The way the church engages in politics is something I have been trying to, and will continue to try to engage during me time here. It is also something I am still learning and struggling with and therefore complicated. However, what is undeniable is that Colombia has been groaning, and I believe God is speaking to this nation, just as She is speaking to every nation and person. And so my prayer for this election day is wisdom and courage for the candidates, for the voters, and especially for the church. Wisdom to see clearly what systems, politics and actions are just and unjust, where we can be involved in shining a light of truth or hope, courage to do it, and wisdom also to know that however these elections go, the work is not over, the battle is neither lost nor won, we are still struggling, we are still the body of Christ.