I can’t be alone.
I’m watching the same news reports, interviews, debates and conventions and thinking, “Are you kidding me?”
And then I sit in a church pew or scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, looking toward the people whom I respect and raised me and I think, “What is going on here?”
It feels as if we are being told we are all soldiers for God’s army and our primary weapon is the voting booth lever come November.
At what point do we begin to ask ourselves if instead of our faith informing our politics, our politics have begun to inform our faith?
Old Covenant, New Rules
Nationalism is described as an extreme form of patriotic pride that is marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries. In my experience within the Church, we are frequently directed toward the story of Israel in the Old Testament to justify patriotic and political zeal.
We should find this concerning, because the Old Testament is brutally honest about the threat nationalism poses to the people of God. Each and every time the people of God let fear override their faith and place their hope in worldly kings and armies, things start to fall apart (ex. The entire book of Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings, the 2016 Presidential Election).
In fact, when the Israelites first demanded a king in 1 Samuel, God grants their request for the explicit purpose of proving to them that it will not improve their lives.
Much of the justification for Christians’ involvement is politics I’ve heard seem to be deeply rooted in fear of the unknown. The fear of “where our country is headed” appears to be driving out any sort of trust or reliance on God’s sovereignty, cosmic justice, and reconciliation and replacing it with our personal political responsibility.
The story of Israel in the Old Testament operates on many levels, and in one sense it is a love story. It’s a story about God’s relentless grace as He continuously attempts to woo His people back from their desire to become an imperialistic nation that has no need for reliance on God.
So does it not seem a little odd when we use this love story to justify the greatness of America from the pulpit?
Christianity has always existed within a hostile secular culture. Israel was surrounded (and frequently conquered) by more militant nations. The inception of Christianity began during the bloody occupation of the Roman Empire. The early Christian church was defined and motivated by the persecution and martyrdom of the saints.
But the church in America is not thriving. In spite of that fact, we are relentlessly told and led to believe that our faith is under attack from a various assortment of threats, biases, and political enemies.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves – is being persecuted for our political beliefs and attitudes the same as being persecuted for Christ?
Jesus said that the “gates of hell would not prevail against the church,” so I think we can confidently assume she’ll survive another presidential election. Whether or not America can, however, remains to be seen. But maybe there are more pressing issues at hand.
Many of us in the Church have exchanged the Cross for the flag. We have replaced the Gospel with party platforms. We have substituted evangelism for sharing HuffPost and Drudge Report articles (and…ahem, blogging). We have traded in faith in God for faith in smart bombs and border walls.
So can we at least entertain the possibility that a lot of our perceived ‘persecution’ in America might be well warranted?
Because perhaps we are Israel, wandering in the desert.
The Great Divorce
If Christian involvement in politics is driven by a desire to protect our comfortable expression of faith and out of fear from our ‘enemies’ then maybe we should assume that – at best – we’re being manipulated in an effort to reap our votes, or – at worst – we’ve forgotten the face of our God.
Jesus broke into the world during one of the most politically unstable eras in human history. The pagan empire of Rome had conquered most of the known world and occupied Israel – including the holy city of Jerusalem. And yet, Jesus wanted nothing to do with the political power. In fact, when Satan tempted Him in the desert with the promise of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory,” He rejected the offer.
In spite of the volatile political climate, Jesus never commanded His followers to stockpile weapons, “take back their country,” or defend their religious freedoms – even though He would have been completely justified in doing so.
Instead, Jesus’ ministry made it clear the transformative power of the Gospel shows no favoritism across party lines, social class or geopolitical borders.
Many Christians point toward Paul’s words in Roman 13 to justify political participation, but the passage doesn’t mention participation at all – instead it instructs its readers to “respect and obey the governing authorities” because they have been “instituted by God” (yet, if there is a digression between the laws of God and man, we are to obey God). In Mark 12, Jesus is specifically asked how the Jewish people should interact with the Roman Empire and His reply (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…”) is neither a critique or endorsement.
Yes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message that is highly offensive to the secular world, and it is necessary for the conviction and repentance of sins. However, in 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul instructed Timothy to preach the Word with “great patience and careful instruction.”
The Gospel claims that every person who has ever drawn breath is born in a deep pit of shame and guilt, and the only way to obtain forgiveness and life is by following and trusting in Jesus – the Son of God who, after living a perfect life, was murdered for your sins against God and then resurrected to bring about the reconciliation and restoration of all creation.
There is a lot to unpack in the above statement. And I don’t believe policy change or legislative action will ever help a person understand the implications of the Gospel or draw them into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
I am not suggesting that Christians should disengage from politics. But maybe we should take a breath and perform some collective soul searching. Because I think it is pretty clear that something is very rotten in our country, and it reeks of both Red and Blue.
It might benefit us to think of new ways to be political in this day and age. And perhaps that means not participating in the modern, political machinations, but instead looking for creative solutions that “set apart the people of God” from the rest of the world.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is asked by a religious scribe which of the commandments is the greatest. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
In today’s age, that message – Love God, Love People – is just as groundbreaking and political now as it was two thousand years ago.
And it might be a good place to start.
Because ultimately, we can’t “take our country back.”
It never belonged to us in the first place.
Post Script [Or, A Cliffhanger] [Or, A Failure to Resolve]
I originally subtitled this post “Why I’m Not Voting in 2016.” But to be honest, I am not sure if that is true. At this point, I just don’t know what to do.
However, I have recently been convicted that if I choose not to vote, my privilege – as a white, middle-class male – somewhat protects me from the consequences of my disengagement. And it’s possible my choice not to participate might be unfair to those who may actually be affected by the election’s outcome – specifically the people Jesus called us to care for.
Therefore, if I choose to vote in November, it will be for the candidate that I think will do the least amount of damage to the world and to those who are most vulnerable to the system. And that may mean putting the needs and self-interests of others ahead of myself.
But, even within those parameters, it is an extremely difficult decision.
So I may just write in Jesus.
But I don’t think He would want the job.
I believe He is satisfied with being the Lord over my life.