As you might have heard, Americans have an election today. Voters everywhere will be rooting for their candidate to take home the prize. The big win, they say, will be the Oval Office. Not only are we deciding on the next Congress and a variety of local offices, we are also voting on the next chief executive, namely, the President of the United States. On the latter, we do this every four years, and most of us are used to the sort of angst that comes with it.
But there has been something different about this election cycle—something unique, something unusual. The groundswell of uncertainty has surpassed the point of sanity, it seems. There is fear, suspicion, and anger everywhere, filling up every nook and cranny of our collective soul. Now more than ever, Americans are fearful and suspicious of their political opponents. This, in turn, has led to a deep-seated anger at anyone—and everyone—across the political aisle.
To make matters worse, everything that I have said above seems to be true for Christians—not least the conservative, evangelical kind (my tribe, by the way). This is a unique election for evangelicals because it has proved to be a deeply divisive issue, as Timothy Dalrymple recently observed.
I do not know who your candidate is—whether President Trump or Vice-President Biden. Personally, I have a strong opinion about this election, and I am tempted to be completely forthright about who I think you should vote for. But I do not think I could argue you to my side of the political aisle—not because I take you to be a loggerhead who lacks reasoning abilities or that I take my position to be unconvincing. The reason is because I think we are all exhausted with others telling us who to vote for. Personally, I have grown weary (and bored) with those political debates that set out to argue their opponents into a checkmate that results in nothing more than a regrettable (and angry) stalemate. Instead, I opt for another approach. In the interest of not wanting to waste your time trying to convince you who to vote for, I thought it might be worthwhile to try to persuade you how to vote.
So, without further ado, here is how I think you should vote:
Vote knowing that your ultimate allegiance is not to the United States. The Bible is clear: “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). These words were written to a church imbedded in Roman Imperialism. The Caesars, Rome, and her political structures were all objects of allegiance and, at times, worship. This was a time when anything less than complete allegiance to Caesar would have brought about trouble—death even. That is what makes Paul’s words here so daring and subversive. Here’s why: They were a challenge to the Roman empire. Actually, they were more than that: They were a challenge to empire. Full stop.
The fact of the matter is that our ultimate allegiance is not to any earthly government—Roman or American. Our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus, the King of kings. The reason this needs to be said is not because American Christians are currently under temptation to abandon their allegiance to King Jesus and replace it with the idol of nationalism and politician worship. Far from it. Our temptation has always been more subtle than this. The true temptation has been to fuse the two together, making Jesus one with, and an endorser of, our nationalism. In this way, our big temptation has always been to worship our political idols alongside Christ. In short, our “gospel” is that of syncretism—a blending of the holy with the profane. It is not a sin to cast your vote for your preferred politician. But it is a sin to cast your soul on the altar of a politician who, at the end of the day, is using you as a means to his own political end. Our souls belong to God, not Caesar. Keep that in mind when you vote—if you vote. (Your right to vote, by the way, is your right not to vote. A non-vote could be a meaningful way to wave the flag of no confidence in front of the current candidates. So, in all my talk of voting, I’m keeping non-voting as a live option, too.)
Vote for your candidate even as you pray for the other candidate. Christians have a unique opportunity in this election to make sure we maintain a godly witness. We don’t hate the other side. We don’t hate our political opponents. We may disagree, and we may see things differently. But under no circumstances are we to hate. One way we can show our love for all is by praying for our political opponents, even as we vote against them. So, when you go into the voting booth, vote for your person and then pray for the one you do not want in office. Such acts are good for the soul of the country—and for your own. Prayerful acts such as these will help bring healing to the biggest problem facing our country right now—namely, suspicion and hatred of “the other side.” Remember that just as you have political opponents, so also are you somebody’s political opponent. You need grace and so does the other side of the aisle.
By prayerfully considering your political opponent, perhaps you will discover just how uneasy you are with your own political party. Perhaps you will see that your prayerful approach to politics is not in line with your own party’s approach. Does your candidate pray for his own opponent? Or does he resort to name-calling and derision of his opponent? Perhaps you will find that your Kingdom is not of this world and is inconsistent with the politics of this world. If so, why not speak up about that in the way you vote? Why not be a firm, unwavering cruciform witness to the godlessness to not just the other party but also to your own political party? (Remember: Your soul belongs to God, not your political party. Act accordingly.)
In the process, you may very well discover that you cannot be a meaningful witness in this regard precisely because you are a participant in the godlessness itself. Maybe you will discover that your own ways have been, sadly, more aligned with the ways of empire and not of the cruciform ways of God’s Kingdom. Praying for your political opponent may very well expose something sinister in your own heart. The problem may not be so much “out there” as much as it is within. That’s true for me, at least.
Vote knowing that voting is not the most important thing in your life. I owe this insight to my friend, Rev. Joe McGee. He made the comment recently that, as a pastor, he has officiated a lot of funerals. At these services, he has observed the many kind and good things people say to remember their loved ones: He was a loving father, She was a loving mother, They always helped others. Interestingly, Joe has never once heard anyone be remembered for their voting record. He has never heard things like, “They’ll be missed because they always voted republican (or democrat).” Nobody is remembered for who they voted for. Why? Because, Joe reminds us, your voting record is not the most important thing about you; it may be important, but it is not most important.
My friend is absolutely correct. What will matter most in the end is how faithful you were to Jesus, not how faithful you were to your political party or favorite politician. So, when you vote, do so knowing that it’s not the most important thing you will do today. Far from it.
Vote knowing that your side could lose—and that’s okay. The rule and reign of Jesus is not contingent upon human events. That means the advancement of God’s Kingdom cannot be derailed or advanced by a politician in Washington, DC. In fact, the Kingdom of Heaven is not something that is advanced by means of this world’s power or coercive political tactics. Any politician (or preacher) who suggests otherwise is, to put it bluntly, more aligned with the ways of antichrist than Jesus Christ.
The truth is that, for two thousand years, Christians have advanced our mission by preaching the cross with our bodies through selfless acts of love, through martyrdom, through sacrifice. When Christians were lit up like candles in Nero’s garden, they did not look to political power as the means by which they could bring change to the world. Instead, they fought back with their bodies as living sacrifices. How risky! And yet, there was no other way, for this was the way of the Son of God. In this sense, the early church became a prophetic witness of the Crucified Lord. While all earthly kingdoms advance by way of the sword, the Kingdom of God would advance by means of love—for friend and for enemy. Citizens of God’s Kingdom rule and reign by means of weakness—the epitome of which was the cross of Christ.
Here’s why this is important. The church simply does not need the political help of earthly Kingdoms to advance its mission. If that is the case (and it is), earthly political involvement, while important, is never ultimate. So, when you vote, please do it knowing that the best way to bring change to your country is not by gaining power. When you vote, do so with a sense of reservation and, perhaps, discomfort. For you, after all, true power is found not in achieving power for your candidate but in the embodied message of the cross.
I have grown perplexed with how the evangelical church has become more preoccupied with gaining Caesar’s throne than with embodying Christ’s cross. Caesar’s throne, of course, is alluring. I get that. To be the most powerful person in the world is alluring; earning his approval is likewise appealing. I get that too. But at the end of the day, unregenerate beastly Caesar—despite his lust for power, fame, and riches—is dead, and he will remain dead. Caesar was self-deceived. Anyone preoccupied with Caesar’s throne is likewise deceived.
But Jesus offers us a better way. His is a politics that is unlike any other politics. Stanley Hauerwas was right: The church does not have a politics; the church is the politic. We are to embody what it means to be truly human being. We are to show the world what it means to image forth the beauty of Jesus. The question is: Will we be the church?
In light of all the above, here’s how I think you should vote tomorrow: Vote in such a way that your vote is a clear challenge to the politics of the world. To state this in the negative: Do not vote in a way that re-enforces the politics of this world.
I am sure that American politics is not ready for that sort of evangelical church. It would mean, after all, that the church would need to become less politically attractive (and hence less powerful). We would need to become more of a prophetic witness instead.
I am not sure the evangelical church is ready to embody that sort of politics in America. It would mean, after all, that the church would need to become less politically attractive (and hence less powerful). We would need to become more of a prophetic witness instead. Sadly, that way is too risky for some of us.
And yet, it is the Way.