I feel a bit like a political refugee.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I feel a bit like a legislative vagrant in a post-religious-right America, roving the dimly lit streets without a real home to lay my head. Most times it’s difficult to ignore the notion that under it all I might just be some sort of bureaucratic misfit wearing an outfit made for someone else’s frame – the seams just don’t seem right. Perhaps you know the feeling.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I love this country and am beyond grateful for the immense freedoms we enjoy here. I mean, where else in the world could someone like me still be gainfully employed? Amazing.
However, there is much that I have been simmering on during this election season and I’d like to share some of those humble (possibly idealistic) thoughts – if I may.
As I observe the political arena in America I cannot help but notice that it is sounding less and less like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as time passes and Christians in both camps appear to be relatively silent on the matter. I do not see significant dialogue about the things that seemed to occupy much of Christ’s mind – loving our enemies, serving the poor, and caring for the widows and orphans.
Frankly, I am having a hard time imagining a candidate with an ethos that is truly consistent from “womb to tomb” – that wrestles on a deeper theological level with what the implications of a “pro-life” stance truly are. In my opinion, the term “pro-life” must be shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life – one that does not begin at conception but end at birth, but all life.
But the truth is, the same Bible that charges us with the task of caring for the unborn also calls us to care for the imprisoned, the poor, the sick, and the marginalized.
This same scandalous Savior moves us from our comfort to seek justice, promote peace, condemn abusive practices, and express radical love in a world that is desperately in need of restoration and the hope of salvation. When it comes to politics then, I see it as no suitable place to put my true hope and confidence, and voting in many respects then becomes a sort of “damage control”, if you will – doing our best to keep things in line while we’re here.
Either way, some voted yesterday – many despite their profound frustration of the entire process. Some cast legitimate ballots while others wrote in their favorite Simpsons character. Or Nader – again. Some have opted out of the entire process all together asserting that any participation is an endorsement of a candidate they cannot fully support. Wherever you fall on that spectrum – I still love you. These last 24 hours doesn’t change that in the slightest.
I am convinced however, that as Christ-followers, it is critical that we engage somehow – and do so with a broader perspective in mind. Jesus spent much of his time on Earth engaging society and talking about actual issue of culture – immigrants, abused women, oppressed laborers, widows, orphans, and yes – even corrupt politicians. These are things that concerned both Jesus and the early church a great deal. The looming question for me then becomes, “Exactly how can and should one engage in these areas in the modern world?”
As I scanned the various social platforms following last night’s election I couldn’t help but feel like many of us were missing the forest for the trees in a big way. I read a lot of bigotry and insolence from many of my Christians friends on both sides of the coin – the types of behavior that Jesus seemed to reserved his most scathing criticisms for. This type of defamation has always and will always break my heart in a very strange way – but regardless, I believe it’s a conversation worth engaging in.
One blogger put it well:
“Political discourse is the Las Vegas of Christianity—the environment in which our sin is excused. Hate is winked at, fear is perpetuated and strife is applauded. Go wild, Christ-follower. Your words have no consequences here. Jesus doesn’t live in Vegas”
Numerous times I saw blatant slander explained away as righteous anger and hateful rhetoric dismissed as religious zeal. After witnessing some of this incessant mudslinging, I can truthfully say that I understand why so many people have dropped out of the ordeal all together. Our political process is inoperative and in many respects, far, far from Jesus.
But I believe we are in desperate need of new civic artistry – a renewed political imagination.
Or, as another writer put it:
“We want a new dream. The old one is bankrupt.”
Christ pulled coins out of fish’s mouths (a curious commentary on his economic positioning) to show who really was king. It was if he was saying, “Caesar can have the trivial coins but you – you are branded with the image of the creator God – which Caesar could never own.” Once we’ve truly given to God what is his, other loyalties don’t tend to hold quite as much water. And then I think we begin to see with different eyes.
One author puts it this way:
“The primary task of the church is not to find better ways to engage the church more effectively in imperial politics, but rather to be a distinctive politics in the context of empire.”
Which is what I think freed Paul and Peter to write things about submitting to and honoring the authorities of their time – even amidst brutal persecution (1 Peter 2:13-14; 1 Tim 2:1-2). They had a beautifully crystalized kingdom perspective that began to infect their communities with truth and grace. Christians, above all people, need to pray for and show respect to our President – regardless of who it is – because after all, unlike those who see politics as ultimate, we recognize that our political structures are important, but temporal, and our citizenship is rooted in a different kingdom.
We can rise above the impulse to attack opposing views and outcomes because we are given a perspective that recognizes God as sovereign over his entire universe – even our government.
On either side of our polarized political positioning are well though out plans, opinions, and perspectives. There is both rejoicing and mourning in the land today – but that is not my point. My point is that, as Christians – should we be engaging our communities on a more eternal level?
Rather than merely engaging in the political process, I believe Christians have a responsibility to elevate it. We are called to stand above the partisan dissension and demonstrate a better way. Should we have an opinion? Yes. Should we care about our country? Yes. Should we vote? Yes. But I think it’s time we talk politics in a way that models the teachings of Jesus rather than ignores them.
The early Christians collided with the empire of their day – crossing party lines and building profoundly subversive friendship. They were nonpartisan, but by no means were they nonpolitical.
A fundamental truth that I have to constantly remind myself of is that governments can develop good legislation, but they certainly cannot heal or change the human heart – only God can. It can provide a meal or housing, but it can’t create community. This sacred task of bringing reconciliation, restoration, healing, and love is something we cannot leave solely up to the government. This is the beautiful work that we are called to do.
As Christ followers – voting cannot be something that we do in a gymnasium every four years. We vote every day. We vote by how we spend our money, the products we buy, and the causes we support. We vote by the things we choose to speak up for and against. We vote with our lives.
As Neil Anderson once said:
“People may not always live what they profess, but they will always live what they believe.”
It was the early Christians you were imprisoned for their defiance, subordination, and civil disobedience – choosing not to declare “Caesar is Lord” – the major propaganda slogan of their time – but instead to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” They went toe to toe with the abusive empire surrounding them, opposing the notion that peace comes by why of military coercion and crushing force – but instead, true peace and freedom came through grace, forgiveness, and through a man named Jesus Christ. And for their insurrection, they were executed.
At the center of it all, these misfits of grace understood that their freedom did not come from the sword of Caesar, but by the blood of the Lamb. In my opinion, true Christian freedom makes governmental liberty look much less significant in comparison. So may the church rise up to be the church. May we stop trying to persuade government to legislate what we have been unable to inspire our congregations to live.
A new empire is breaking through the cracks of this anxious world. It isn’t ultimately about who sits at what desk, in what office – but the one who sits on the throne forevermore.
May we be conduits of that reality in a world that is desperately in need of redemption.
In the end, it’s not all about an elephant or a donkey. Glory to the Lamb.