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In the Beginning: Imago Dei and the Heart Of Democracy

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

The social, economic, and political problems facing our country are many. Whether we are looking at white privilege and institutionalized racism, the blatant sexism and misogyny in this year’s presidential campaign, its media coverage, and throughout the broader culture, the corruption of money in politics and corporate speech, the ever-rising economic inequality between the rich and the poor, the failure of Congress to do their job while pursuing seemingly endless faux investigations and making time for unprecedented obstruction towards President Obama’s agenda, or the conflicts and wars throughout the world that demand not only our attention out of a duty to national security, but our compassionate response out of our shared humanity, we can easily become overwhelmed at the immensity and complexity of these challenges.

This is when it is helpful to return to the basics, the fundamentals, the core values that guide our living and decision making. Such foundational principles are found in the first chapter of Genesis at the culmination of the first creation story. In this account human beings are made in the image of God, male and female, and given the vocation to steward all the rest of creation.

27So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”   – Genesis 1:27-28 NRSV

Out of this passage I want to call attention to three foundational values that are pertinent to our democracy.

First, being created in the image of God means that each and every person has absolute worth and must treated with the value and respect that is inherent with bearing the divine image.

Second, since all people are created in the image of God, there is a fundamental equality among all people. Therefore, all people are entitled to the same basic human rights that are fundamental to a thriving democracy.

Finally, as people made in the image of God we are called into life-giving relationships with one another as we tend to the care of all the rest of creation, including all the interdependent ecosystems that sustain life from ocean’s depths to mountain’s heights, and from arctic ice to tropic forest.

From these three fundamental values of worth, equality, and relational stewardship among persons and the whole of creation, we can return to any of the complex issues facing our nation and without getting into the weeds ask these how these values are or are not being honored.

Consider the issue of voting, an essential element of our democracy.

With less than forty days until election day and voter registration deadlines coming quickly, it is imperative to make sure that everyone has access to the polls and that this is made easier, not harder, especially for those who face the greatest challenge getting registered and to the ballot box. A nondiscriminatory approach to voter rights respects the inherent worth and equality of every citizen and enables each person to make their voice heard in the public square where policies are made that affect our daily life together and the world we inhabit.

I lament the institutionalized and interpersonal brokenness that persists in dividing people by color, class, creed, gender, and faith. I lament the ideology that turns a blind eye to climate change even as atmospheric carbon levels passed the milestone of 400 part per million. I lament the suffering and death of children in war torn Syria and throughout the region. I lament the mass shootings that plague our society and all too frequent police shootings of black men. None of this reflects our common calling to see the intrinsic worth of each and every person and accord each and every person equal rights as we seek to live together in ways that promote the life and well-being of everyone and the planet we share.

But even in the midst of all that is broken, I see signs of hope. This past week it was in the story of Molly Hudgens and the 14-year-old boy she talked with for 45 min. ending his plans to go on a shooting spree killing teachers and a police officer. She listened to him with compassion. She saw his worth and treated him with the care due every student. This honoring of his humanity resulted in lives being saved including his own.

In the beginning…perhaps for people of faith and those committed to the common good of all in our democracy we need to begin here more regularly and intentionally. From this starting point we can see our way through the complexity of all our challenges. After all the biggest barrier in solving our social, economic, and political problems is regarding the intrinsic worth and equality of each and every person on the one planet we all must share.

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