We are children of Abraham by faith; we are called to be a blessing. We like to think that our call to blessing means we can be nice to everybody, all the time, and we’re wrong. That’s just wishing to live in a world that doesn’t exist. It is pretending that you can love sheep and never raise your hand to a wolf. That may be true for a while, but only as long as there aren’t any wolves around. When the wolves come, the shepherds fight. And the people who professed to love sheep, but “don’t want to get involved” as the wolves feast, are revealed for what they are: hypocrites, cowards, sentimentalists addicted to an insipid niceness that’s a poor substitute for love.
In Englewood, Christians stand at that crossroads. The situation will be sharpest for the voters of District 3, but the whole city is deeply affected, and city-wide discussion is appropriate. In late August, the city will mail out ballots asking whether to recall Council Member Laurett Barrentine. The voters of District 3 will have to decide on one of three responses: yes, no, or refuse to answer.
Let’s talk first about refusing to answer. In our democratic republic, all voters are bound by the challenge to civil magistrates to function as “God’s servant for good” (Romans 13:4). When a police officer ignores a bank robber, preferring to “not get involved” in such messy business, we all see this for what it is: willful desertion of his duty. When a matter comes to a vote, voters are in the same position. By God’s good providence, they are involved. (That doesn’t mean abstention is never the right thing to do, but a voter need a reason to abstain, just as he needs a reason to vote yes or no. No one gets to wash their hands, Pilate-like, and pretend that somehow absolves them of responsibility.)
Moving beyond futile attempts to remain loftily above the fray, let’s talk about voting yes or no. The charges against Barrentine are serious and well-founded. She has habitually sowed conflict and division in the city, in order to champion one side against the other for her own private advantage. This is something that God hates (Proverbs 6:19), and Christians are required to oppose it. She has used her position of power to falsely accuse those who help our poorest and most vulnerable citizens–and this while claiming the name of Christ. In that respect she is precisely what the Pharisees were, and Jesus would be at war with her, as He was with them. She has spread gossip and lies about various city employees, accusing them of incompetence, criminal negligence, and conspiracy. It has gotten so bad that a number of valuable employees have sought employment elsewhere. Proverbs tells us exactly what to do about this: cast out the scorner, and the strife will cease.
You can review the evidence for those claims at (www.englewoodrecall.com); I’m not going to rehash it all here. The point for our purposes is that if the claims in the above paragraph are true (and they are), every Christian in District 3 should vote to recall Barrentine, and should do so because they are Christians.
There is simply no Christian way to vote “no” without concluding that the claims are not true, or that there’s insufficient evidence to support them. (Given Barrentine’s talent for deception, a good Christian could mistakenly vote against the recall. I am saying that it would be a mistake, and a pretty serious failure of discernment at that.)
But the point for our purposes today is that a Christian voter has an obligation at this point to review the evidence, and having examined the evidence, to get involved. This is the kind of controversy where Christians should take a very public stand. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.
What Would Jesus Do?
“What would Jesus do?” can be a hard question to answer. Jesus regularly surprised everyone, even the disciples who knew Him best and walked with Him for three years.
Jesus didn’t treat everyone the same; He knew that He had different responsibilities upward, toward God, inward, toward God’s people, and outward, toward the world. He was also called to fulfill three very different roles: priest, king, and prophet. Jesus calls us to follow Him, to live our lives by the patterns He set. Since He’s not fulfilling only one role, there’s never just one answer. In any given situation, there’s a priestly response, a kingly response, and a prophetic response; we have to ask what God is calling us to do in that particular situation.
The priestly response is to bless, despite everything, and that is where we started. My allies and I have been working hard to bless our city for years now, both on our own and in coordination with others who want to help. We now find the people we are pastorally responsible for being injured by a wolf in our midst. At that point, I felt compelled to do something more direct.
We moved next to a prophetic response. We challenged the lies, gossip, and hypocrisy directly, naming the sins for what they were in multiple city council meetings. That was not fun, and we had to defend the necessity of it to many of our friends and allies, who hadn’t ever seen that side of us before. (Our earlier essay, “Speaking with an Edge: The Biblical Case for Hard Words,” laid out the case for doing what we did there.) Barrentine did not respond well to the rebuke and doubled down on her ugly behavior.
Unfortunately, that makes it necessary for the people of Englewood to recall her. Supporting that recall effort by talking with people, writing, putting out yard signs, and every other way I can–that’s the kingly response. I am doing that, and I am doing it because Jesus requires it of me.
This is not something like a municipal bond issue, where good Christians can legitimately be on either side of the issue. There is no Christian way of approaching this issue that leads to the conclusion “vote to keep the wolf in office.” And if you live in District 3, you can no longer avoid the question except by willfully abdicating.