American Christians Christians who live in America,
I have been thinking a lot about you lately, and I wanted to share a few of those thoughts with you. I am unqualified to do so, of course, but I hope you will hear me out anyway, and that perhaps, for at least a few, these words will be challenging and helpful.
Many of you have been thinking an awful lot about who to vote for, and I understand this has been a very unusual and challenging election season. But I think much of the angst people are feeling surrounding this election is due to a misunderstanding of who we are as Christian people, and a misunderstanding of what God wants for us. I will flesh that out in just a minute. But first, let me begin with the two main arguments I have heard from my Christian friends regarding this election:
- Argument 1: “Donald Trump is unfit to be president for more reasons that I can count. He is immoral, racist, and sexist. He denigrates any who challenge him, and many who don’t. He is a bully with a short fuse. He will bring nothing but trouble if elected, lower our standing in the world, and put the vulnerable at risk, both here and abroad. I might not love Hillary, but no Christian can vote for Donald.”
- Argument 2: “Well I might not like Donald Trump, but Hillary Clinton is worse! She is a proven liar, a ‘bought’ politician, and the definition of corrupt. She does not value life, either the lives unborn babies or the lives of those in our own military. She could end up nominating a bunch of Supreme Court justices, who will take our country in an even more liberal direction. If she appoints liberal justices, think of the laws that could be made and how far it would take our country from our Christian roots! I might not like Donald, but no Christian can vote for Hillary.”
Sound familiar?!? I have spoken with many who are right in the middle of these arguments, who can see both sides. Many feel like a stuffed animal being tugged equally in both directions, ready to split at the seams! They feel totally unable to cast a vote in a few weeks that doesn’t feel like it compromises their faith in one way or another… I can sympathize with how you’re feeling, but I had a thought that hit me recently: If we have voted before and this is the first time we are feeling this way, we missed something in the other election(s).
To an extent, I always feel uncomfortable voting for any candidate. It’s why I’m an independent; there are serious moral challenges and pitfalls to every party, and every candidate.
This very challenge is precisely why there is a long history within Christianity of abstaining from voting. Many have seen in the act of voting itself an attempt to anoint someone else other than the true King (God) as their primary leader, so they have sensed idolatry even in the act of voting! Now this is an extreme view, but it gets an important point across: if you follow Jesus, you are not an American who happens to be a Christian; you are a Christian who happens to live in America. And even if you feel it is morally acceptable to vote (if not, then don’t vote!), you are not voting for your true King. That position is already filled! You are merely exercising your right (some might say responsibility) as a citizen, voting for the person you feel is best to serve as the most powerful in the land. You are not saying you approve of the candidate fully, nor are you responsible for how they perform as President. You are merely saying that out of the options, and based on your criteria, you approve of them the most.
There. Hopefully that little pep talk relieves some of the angst and pressure you feel about this election. If you can’t get comfortable with voting, don’t!! If you do vote, vote for the person you think is best. That’s it! The fact is that everyone you’ve ever voted for and everyone you’ll ever vote for is a flawed, imperfect individual who has made or will make some terrible decisions in life and in office. That doesn’t mean we should minimize personal failings, and I personally believe in only voting for those I think have a strong moral compass and a deep concern for others (hence the term “public service”). But your vote does not define you. And no one you vote for will ever truly be worthy of that vote. Only God can be our true King.
But as I referenced above, I think something deeper is going on with the angst many of us are feeling. I really believe this angst can be a good thing, because it is forcing us to think through some issues we never would have dealt with otherwise. And as I said, I think our angst is due in large part to our misunderstanding of who we are as Christian people, and our misunderstanding of what God’s desire for us is.
Let’s get to the point by examining the argument of many of my conservative Republican friends for why they could never vote for Hillary Clinton. (I am not interested in challenging this argument so that these people will change their minds and vote for Hillary. That is not at all my goal here. Just stay with me). They could never vote for her because, they say, she may end up being responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices, and she would certainly nominate liberal-leaning justices who would help pass laws that would lead our country further away from our “Christian roots.”
Even if we stay away from the fact that nominating a justice does not equal the confirmation of that justice, I think there is a faulty underlying assumption in this narrative that is crucial: that if we work through the political process to get the most “conservative” people into office – people who will make laws we approve of, laws that emphasize morality – society will move in a more wholesome direction. Then we will be able to go on living our faith in peace (or even under protection), and we will remain free to live out our faith within our culture without interference. Perhaps this freedom and lack of interference will even enable us to more effectively spread the good news and introduce more people to a relationship with Jesus!
It is taken as a given, within this mindset, that this end result would be a positive, a wonderful goal to strive for. It is taken as a given that if laws favorable to Christianity are passed, that if Christianity is in a favored position within our culture, that would be a marvelous thing, perhaps even a boon to the faith.
But what if that assumption is incorrect?
What if the very goal we’ve been pursuing – a “Christian nation”, laws that protect our rights, laws that reinforce our worldview on sexuality and the like – is not a worthy goal?
What if, instead, it is the very pursuit of this goal that has left Christians in America powerless, even while we grasp for power?
I have come to the conclusion that, for those who follow Jesus, attempting to work through the political process to get the right people into office – so the right laws are made, so we are as free and empowered as possible to live and spread our faith, and so that we move our culture in a more moral direction – is a wrong-headed desire. It comes from a gross misunderstanding of who we are and what God is calling us to.
So who are we? And what is God calling us to?
Check out these words from the apostle Peter:
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires,which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
-1 Peter 2:9-12
We are not truly Americans when it comes down to it, because if we follow Jesus we are already taken. We are God’s special possession, his people, called out of darkness into the light of mercy and relationship with him.
And we are foreigners and exiles, called to live unique, holy lives among our not-yet-Christian neighbors. Even in the face of evil, of persecution, of bad laws, of hatred and accusation being thrown at us, we are called to live such good and loving lives among those who hate or exclude us that they will eventually be drawn to our God.
Dear Christians, this is truly not your home. This is not your country. The President of the United States is not your leader. So don’t fret. We already have the perfect Ruler, the One full of mercy and grace, forgiveness and love and compassion and tenderness and kindness. He is the One we follow; we need not look for any other ruler to fill the void in our lives and hearts. And the best thing we can do for our country and our friends is not to vote correctly but to walk closely with Jesus, the One already long at work to fix the broken things of this world.
One final thought: I would say that out of all the generations of Christians since the time of Jesus, the early church is the one that made the biggest impact. The gospel traveled, before cars or planes or the internet, all over the known world within a matter of years. From a handful of followers to hundreds of thousands by the end of the century, to millions by the end of the 2nd century.
They passionately lived out their faith, a faith that was so real and important to them that they were willing to die for it. And they did die, over and over again: being burned at the stake, eaten by lions, crucified, crucified upside down, and the list could go on. Even in the face of torture and death, they kept on believing, and thousands upon thousands more kept converting. They were absolutely certain, and because of that, they were unafraid.
No laws were passed to help them – only to hurt them. Society was not being pushed in a more moral direction through legislation; however, millions of lives were saved through faith in Jesus, even though many of them were killed for it.
It is my opinion that Christianity is not at its best when we are at the center, the dominant and accepted religion with power to make our wills known and get favorable laws passed. In fact, I think pursuing this makes our faith die a slow death. I believe Christianity is at its best when we live life on the margins, in a subversive way that does not make sense to the culture at large. We are at our best when we accept our status as foreigners and aliens in a culture that is not our own, in a “kingdom” that is antithetical to the Kingdom being led by Jesus. We are at our best when we focus not on gaining power but on relinquishing it, serving everyone we meet as if they are Jesus himself.
I don’t long for the persecution experienced by the early church, but I long for the faith that persecution produced.
Dear Christians who live in a America, I pray we can together be God’s holy possession, his strange and unique people known for our love and good deeds, even in the midst of a broken world…