You don’t know me, but we both claim to have a common bond in our faith in Jesus Christ.
And yet, the longer this campaign for the Presidential election for the United States of America continues, the less I feel we have anything in common at all (I realise how sweeping of a generalisation that is!). So I would like to take a few of your minutes to ask you to consider a few things before you vote in the upcoming election.
Thirteen years ago I moved from the suburbs of Buffalo, New York to the south west corner of the United Kingdom. For those of you who have never experienced culture shock and the changes that come from living within such a different setting, it can be both excruciatingly painful and powerfully transforming. Your identity gets pinged around like a cat playing with a mouse; being seen as foreign in your new home, as well as in the place you once called home. Accents change (mine certainly did anyway!) and perspectives widen. Unspoken assumptions from your home culture are challenged by the new culture (eg. gun ownership, health care), and leave you seeing your old home in a completely different way that often leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And without even trying to, you naturally challenge the unspoken assumptions from the new culture (eg. the prolific use of alcohol, sarcasm); which despite the best efforts to bring up in genuine love and concern, are often met with offended resentment.
Because these changes and challenges happen in all areas of life, it can so easily leave a person choosing to not discuss anything that truly matters, because it will inevitably lead to disagreement and conflict. It often feels like the only place I belong is on a dinghy somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between the two.
However, the thing that has changed my worldview more than anything else is not living in “liberal Europe” as so many friends and family from America sometimes assume, but instead the journey I have been on with Jesus over these last thirteen years and the things that he has taught me about his suffering (and through my own) and what being a Christian is really all about. So, it is from this place that I would like to share seven things that have challenged me during this Presidential campaign as I have been considering who to vote for:
- America ≠ The Kingdom of God
For many of you reading this, I am sure your initial response will be, “Of course America isn’t, I know that.” However, the way Christians expect the American government to operate in line with their principles and standards, and the way Christians expect the government to do the work that God has called His church to do (more on that in a moment) betrays that belief. We must remember that before we are citizens of America or residents of the United Kingdom, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. Jesus said that His Kingdom does not operate the way kingdoms of the world do. It does not need money, power, or influence to grow and be successful. It does not need to defend itself. Its prosperity does not come at the cost of others’ poverty, because it was all paid for through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So as you think about who should be the next President, please do pray and ask God, because He is living and active and wants to help you in every areas of life. Also think about who has the qualities to be employed as President of the United States of America, instead of imagining them taking the reins of the Kingdom of God, because that position has already been filled for all eternity.
- Christian Rights vs. Kingdom Growth
What if I suggested to you that you can’t have both? Which would you choose? Look around the world and through history. Everywhere revival is taking place and God’s church is growing at enormous rates are places that Christians face persecution and opposition that truly shames what we face in the Western world. History also tells us that the cosying up of Christianity to money, power, and influence always leads to the decline of the church in that area.
You see, we have come to believe that suffering is an enemy that we should avoid and conquer at all costs – and so we live our lives fighting for what protects our convenience, comfort, and rights. The author of Hebrews says that hardship can be used by God to grow and train us. The letter of Revelation goes a step further and says that a Christian’s witness to the Gospel, during a time of suffering, is the only way that some hearts will ever turn to God and experience His salvation. The entire story of our relationship with God is based on Jesus enduring his suffering, not running away from it or campaigning against it. Your insistence to choose Presidential candidates based on how much they will make your life easier, or maintain your convenience, or protect your rights may be hindering others in America experiencing the eternal saving power of the Gospel. Is it worth that price?
I am not saying that we pursue or create hardship through our choice for President, but I am saying that choosing the President based on who will give Christians in America the most influence, power, money, or rights is to not understand history, the kingdom of God, or the importance of suffering in seeing more in our nation connect to the God who is our everything.
- America does not own God
There is another lesson that history teaches us about God and other kingdoms – He is always on the side of the weak, vulnerable, and oppressed. Which is great, because that is where our story as a nation begins and is why our founding fathers wrote the constitution in the way that they did. But times have changed. America by in large is no longer the one being oppressed, but the one doing the oppressing. God fought against Israel when they forgot their roots and enslaved the nations around them, He will fight against America if it continues to pursue its own prosperity and wealth at the cost of the world around it (all wealth takes something from somebody). Jesus’ death wasn’t about individuals having a personal ticket to heaven as much as it was about God pursuing justice and salvation for the entire world at the cost of His life. This means, according to Revelation, that one day God will judge all the systems of oppression and destruction of life in this world, and anyone who is a part of them. God will not let America get away with oppression, greed, and injustice just because we are best friends with Israel; that is a complete misreading of The Bible and a complete misunderstanding of who this God who died for us is – in my honest opinion.
Which candidate for President will sacrifice the most to close the gap between the rich and poor? Which candidate will fight the hardest to give equal rights to all people regardless of their skin colour, religious beliefs, or understanding of their sexuality? Which candidate will shout the loudest in support of the marginalised and oppressed around the world? Which candidate will work the hardest to reduce the impact our lifestyle of luxury has on this planet and its climate? Because those are exactly the places that the God who was born in a manger and died on a cross is working and saving.
- We are saved by mercy.
The Bible is clear that our salvation is a gift from God, and that like the man dying on the side of the road in Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan, the only thing that can save us is mercy. Not religious tradition, or beliefs, or capitalism, or socialism, or the next President of the United States of America. Just the mercy of God.
This point matters deeply. When people believe that they are saved because they have the right beliefs, that is called theological idolatry. And it is ugly. Theological idolatry is what leads Christians to react so aggressively when they come face to face with someone who disagrees with them, because deep down it feels like their salvation is being threatened, and they must protect their right to be in heaven one day. So they write on placards and twitter and in books about how they are right and all these others are wrong and going to hell for it. What these people don’t seem to understand is that their rescue depends on grace, and nothing else.
Just as there can be theological idolatry, there can also be political idolatry. This happens when somewhere deep inside people believe their salvation, their rescuing from the brokenness in their life depends on a particular political party being in power. The rhetoric that comes from them is that anyone who disagrees or represents the opposing party are aligned with the devil himself and are the children of all heresies ever uttered. And anyone who agrees is seen as untouchable and blameless and anointed by God, no matter what mistakes they’ve made or experience they have. What these people don’t seem to understand is that their rescue depends on grace, and nothing else.
So, regardless of who you vote for, notice the way you and those around you speak about the candidate you support and the candidate you don’t. Is there love? Is there the humility to recognise that your opinion and view point may be wrong on many matters in life? Is there an anchored belief that God is the one who will solve your problems and fix what is broken, or are you looking for the next President to fill that void in your life? Are you willing to listen and let yourself be challenged by both sides, or has your talk radio station choice been super-glued into position, never to be changed again?
- We are exiles.
This connects back a bit to America not being the Kingdom of God, but this is not our true home. I don’t say that because one day we will leave this earth and go to a heavenly realm far away, because I believe that viewpoint misunderstands pretty much the entire Bible and all that Jesus did. I say that because the story of Israel in exile really connects with our current lives as citizens of heaven living in earthly kingdoms and nations. Through Jeremiah, God instructed His people in exile in Babylon to seek the “peace and prosperity” of the city he had put them in. He went a step further and said that the peace and prosperity of Babylon would directly affect their own.
Generally speaking, American Christians are quite good at seeking the prosperity of America, perhaps too good. But what about peace? If one of our main roles (we will get to the main role in a minute) is to seek peace in the place God has put us, which candidate will help us do that the most? Which candidate seems to value peace the most?
- We are disciples.
This means that our lives are about trying to grow in our reflection of Jesus, both who He is and what He accomplished. Disciples reveal their teachers by embodying their principles and characteristics. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi that they needed to value others above themselves and consider others’ needs/interests as more important as their own, because that is what Jesus did on the cross for them. One of the things that saddens me the most about the rhetoric coming out of the Christian community in America during this campaign, is that it is laced and saturated with selfishness. All the arguments, all the criteria for who they should vote for, are based on which candidate serves their needs and beliefs the best. Ironically, Paul felt that this is the complete opposite of what it means to be a Christian.
If you are a Christian, which candidate will best meet the needs of your Muslim neighbour or atheist co-worker? If you are white, which candidate will support the needs of ethnic minorities the best? If you identify yourself as heterosexual, which candidate will protect and support the LGBTQ community the best? As painful as it is (and it won’t be as painful as Jesus’ crucifixion), if you truly are a follower of Jesus, this election is not about you at all.
- We are the temple.
I hope you have made it this far, because this is probably the most important point I want to make today. In Peter’s sermon at the birth of the Christian church in the book of Acts he quotes the prophet Joel and claims that they are now in “the last days” and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. For Peter, this salvation was not about going to heaven, but about knowing God’s rescuing power in all areas of life which anticipates a final act of deliverance from all death and brokenness that was coming. So, the early church didn’t tell people to “turn or burn”, they helped them experience this salvation by selling their homes so people could eat and by risking their lives/honour to heal someone of their disease; and every step along the way they verbally shared the good news of what God has accomplished through Jesus.
Our role as the church has not changed from those first few pages of Acts, we are still responsible for distributing the rescue God paid for through the death of Jesus. Is the health service in America still not good enough? Are there still not enough jobs? Are too many people living in poverty? Are our streets too violent? Your role as the church is to pay whatever it costs to see people taken care of, to see people fed and housed, to see people healed. By all means, lobby the government to have policies that are more just, but do not for a minute think that is enough. We are the temple of God, we are the place people go to experience the salvation Jesus’ death paid for. Have you sold your home to feed the poor or start a free health clinic? Have you quit your job so someone else can have it or to start a business where you would employ a few others? Is your church building bigger buildings, when they could be rescuing people in their area from some of the brokenness that is still stealing life and hope? Are you moving into the most violent and impoverished parts of your city so that you can be a peacemaker and source of hope in that neighbourhood?
The buck doesn’t stop with Truman or any other President, it stops with us, the church. We are the hands and feet of the Creator of the universe, the ambassadors of the Saviour of the world, the temple of the Most High God.
So whoever you vote for on November 8th (and I pray that you will vote!) do not let our true Enemy convince you that is all your duty as an American Christian requires. Pray, think, vote – and then carry on being the voice for the voiceless, the home for the homeless, the friend to the friendless – whatever the cost, because Jesus has been all these things and more for you.