Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Elections and Kingdoms

Today is election day. The midterm elections are happening as I type, after weeks of acrimony and turmoil. In about 14 hours it will all be over, thankfully. Then we can begin treating each other badly in anticipation of the 2020 election.

Every election cycle, I see the words repeated. They are spoken, typed on Facebook, and broadcast on Twitter. It has become a part of Christian culture, like the words “amen” and “after-church potluck.”

"It’s our Christian responsibility.”

“This election is crucial. It’s our Christian responsibility to vote.”
“The future of our nation is at stake. It is our Christian responsibility to be politically engaged.”
“The fate of the church is at stake. It is our Christian responsibility to elect leaders who will defend it.”

But is it really our “Christian responsibility?” Or is that simply a product of cultural Christianity instead of biblical discipleship? (And with those two questions, I have just touched the third rail of US evangelicalism. To question that core belief can get you excommunicated from some churches and cause many to call into question your very salvation. I know, because I would have been outraged by those questions not that long ago.)

But can we lay aside what we have always been told for just a moment to ask the questions? What can it hurt to check make sure that what we believe and live is actually true to the Word of God?

So, allow me a moment to give you the following arguments again a Christ-follower’s political involvement:

1) There is no Scriptural basis for it. 

Jesus stepped onto a first century scene that was a political incubator. The Jewish nation was living under an oppressive Roman government that had stripped them of their rights and was taxing them into poverty. They were no longer allowed to practice some of the Torah commanded practices, and the people wanted political change.

In fact, as they anticipated the coming Messiah, they were looking for a political one. They believed the Messiah would enter Jerusalem, establish an earthly rule, and place Israel at the top of the pecking order. Over time, many who had heard Jesus’ teaching and had seen his miracles believe that He was that Messiah, which explains their jubilation when He entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They believed He was getting ready to establish the new kingdom. And He was. But it was not the kingdom they expected. So, when He died five days later, most of His followers walked away. 

We know now that Jesus did not come to be a political savior and establish an earthly kingdom. He came to establish a spiritual and Eternal Kingdom. And He had told them that repeatedly through His teaching. But they were so blinded by their own opinions of what they needed that they could not see what they really needed.

Twice we see religious leaders asking Jesus politically charged questions. But maybe you missed those:

1) Should we pay taxes to Caesar? There was a political movement afoot in which some Jews wanted to arise and refuse to pay taxes to the Roman government. After all, they were corrupt, wicked, and using the funds to oppress the people paying them. They wanted that movement to gain enough critical mass so that the people would rise up as one and refuse to pay. The endorsement of this popular teacher would go a long way in achieving that critical mass.
But notice Jesus’ response: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s.” In essence, He told them to give to the temporary government the temporary things it asks for. But give to God the eternal things that really matter. They wanted political answers, but He used the opportunity to turn the question around to address the spiritual issue that would really make a difference.

2) Should we stone this woman? - You have heard it countless times. The story of the woman caught in adultery, dragged into public with angry men holding stones. And they ask Jesus the question. 
The question was not a spiritual one. It was a political one. The Roman government had stripped the Jews of the right to dispense capital punishment, and they were angry. Again, they were seeking an uprising to overthrow Roman rule. They wanted political solutions. Plus this question would give them opportunity to accuse Jesus, no matter His response. 
And, again, Jesus took the political and turned it to the spiritual. “Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And suddenly those men were not looking a Roman law or the sins of the lady, but were instead examining their own hearts. 
Jesus, and the first century church that He established, had a disregard for the politics of their day. Believers were arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and put to death for their faith, but you do not see them complaining about the oppressive government that did it. You do not see them seeking to change earthly rulers or kingdoms. You instead see them obsessively seeking to bring glory to Jesus under whatever rule they found themselves. They understood that the endorsement and protection of the government was not important, because God was in control. Their only concerns were making disciples and honoring God with their lives, regardless of who ruled the earthly kingdom in which they lived. Why should it be different for us today?
2) We do not know what is best.

Each election cycle I hear it spoken: “We need to elect godly leaders!” And we advocate, endorse, and defend the ones we believe fits that description. And, if they appear to be losing or lose, we panic and wail. And if they appear to be winning, we rejoice (and often gloat). But here is the problem: We actually have no idea what God wants.
The Bible makes it clear that God raised up and tears down leaders at will. They wither and fade under His breath. And they rise to power just because He thinks it. 

We also know that, at times, He raises up good and noble leaders. He also, at other times, raises up wicked and corrupt leaders. Both serve His purposes and accomplish His will. And both will quickly fade when that purpose is complete.

So, how do we know who God wants in power? Many times, we have actually fought against the will of God and have done so with passion. How do I know? Because “our guy or girl” lost.

That is why the only clear instructions we as the church have regarding earthly leaders it to 1) honor them and 2) pray for them. We are not instructed to celebrate their rise or their fall. And we are not instructed to endorse or attack them. We honor them, we pray for them, and we do the important work that this world’s rulers cannot do.

3) It is not our kingdom.

At the moment of our transformation through faith in Christ, we become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We suddenly find ourselves living as foreigners and strangers in a temporary and fallen land, while our citizenship is in an eternal and infallible Land. And we are ambassadors of the Kingdom. And that new Kingdom should have our loyalty and allegiance. And our focus should become expanding that Kingdom.

We, as followers of Jesus, should be consumed and obsessed with His Kingdom. Our mission is to make disciples for that Kingdom. Our hearts are to long desperately to see that Kingdom come. And we know that we cannot serve two masters.

And so, while we may have gratitude for the earthly nation in which we live and the benefits of that residency, we know the true Kingdom for which we live, fight and die. And it is a Kingdom that is built on love, mercy, grace, service, and sacrifice. We fight in an entirely different way using entirely different weapons. And it directly conflicts with the way earthly and political battles are fought.

We know that every earthly kingdom and nation is destined to fall. It will happen, sooner or later. So we focus on building the only Kingdom that will last. And we certainly should not engage in any earthly battle, political or otherwise, that will cause us to compromise the love, mercy, grace, service, and sacrifice of our true Home.

4) Politics are a symptom, not a cure.
I often hear believers discussing politics and the need to change the government. This has become a focus of the evangelical church over the last four decades, beginning with the Moral Majority of the late 70’s. The idea is that if we want a godly nation we need to elect godly leaders. And the idea is completely false and equivalent to trying to make the tail wag the dog.

In a democratic republic such as the United States, the politics of the nation are simply a reflection of the hearts of the people. Fallen and unredeemed people elect godless and corrupt leaders. And, as the church has focused more and more on political solutions and less and less on disciple making, we have seen the nation decline, along with the quality of our leaders. Increasingly we find ourselves holding our nose while we vote because the quality of the candidates of both parties have declined horribly. We tolerate words and actions from our leaders (and even defend them) that would have been absolutely intolerable 30 years ago. Yet the church continues to insist on political solutions and engagements even as it makes itself increasingly inefficient at reaching people for Jesus.

The only hope for our nation is Jesus Christ. And not Jesus Christ dictated from congress or the White House, but Jesus alive in us and our neighbors. And the only way for that to happen is for you and me to focus on making disciples by loving and reaching to people of all walks of life and background, regardless of their lifestyle, choices, or political opinions. And, in order to do that, we have to tone down our politics and turn up our Jesus.

5) It is robbing us of our love.

Recently I sent private messages to 10 of my friends who are unbelievers. I chose them because I believe them to be rational people with genuine skepticism about God, the Bible, and/or Jesus. And they are all people with whom I can have authentic conversations without hostility. I asked them, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘church’?" Every one of their answers related to politics. Every one.

Not one of them answered loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, or self controlled. Several of them did use words such as “angry”or “harsh.” Two mentioned political double standards. Three mentioned that they would never be welcome in the typical evangelical church because of their politics. Two mentioned being recently attacked by professing Christians on Facebook because of their political opinions.

On a regular basis, I see professing believers attacking non believers on social media. Sometimes it is directly, sometimes indirectly. If a politician, athlete, musician, or actor expresses an opinion we don’t like, we feel free to demand a boycott and delight if their careers suffer. We see them as enemies and we go after them. Which is a direct contradiction of the commands to love, forgive, reach, and make disciples. And it is destroying our ability to build the one eternal Kingdom. It is destroying our ability to love.


So, there you have it. My arguments for why a Christ-follower should not be politically involved. Am I saying that a Christian should not vote? No. As long as you can do so with love, humility, a spirit-led conviction, and without alienating the ones you are called to reach. 

But I will say this…if the church, as a whole, continues to engage in politics the way we have in recent decades, the nation will continue its decline. And we will one day answer to God. And I believe we will not be happy with His response.

Okay, I have dug my grave deep enough. More importantly than whether you vote today, I pray that you will love God, love your neighbors, love you enemies, and make disciples.


Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew