Here is our situation as I see it: we live in a nation deeply divided—conservative vs. liberal; Christian vs. other or no faith; Christian conservative vs. Christian progressive; and the list goes on. The divisions run deep and generate alarming heat but little light. Notably these divisions sync up well with the current political scene, and the amazing set of circumstances in which we now find ourselves.
As of this writing, the beginning of Holy Week, it looks as though our country will choose between two candidates, either of whom would bring to our nation an unprecedented, historic presidency. On the one hand, for the first time in U.S. history a woman would take the oath of office as President, a woman whose husband has already served two terms as President. Historic and remarkable any way you look at it. It would be the second consecutive electoral “breakthrough” of a sorts, since President Obama was the first African American to be elected (twice) to the office. This would-be Madame President would bring considerable political experience with her into office, which itself would likely further divide Americans who assess that experience in radically different ways.
On the other hand, the U.S. would elect a total political outsider whose public record includes virtually none of the usual experiences and accomplishments past presidents have offered. This, in his case, will actually have added to his appeal. And what of that appeal? As it now looks, his victory will have been fueled precisely by his outsider status combined with his success in connecting with and enlivening the frustration, anger, fear and desperation of at least “enough of us” Americans. Stunningly, he will have done so while saying and acting in some of the most outrageous (and patently “unchristian”) ways for anyone in history who has seriously sought the White House, and by doing so with no shame or regret.
Both of these most likely candidates scare many followers of Jesus. At the same time, however, both also enjoy a significant and strong level of support from many professed followers of Jesus, some openly and some secretly. Both likely candidates can produce polling data, confirmed by the primary and caucuses to date, that support their confident claims that people of faith are with them. Thus, in the political arena the deep divide between “conservative” and “liberal” is like a watermark behind avowedly Christian-political responses.
For the first time in my recollection. I am hearing impressive numbers of people of faith concluding that neither candidate is acceptable—on both sides of the watermarked-divide. Even to consider who would be least unacceptable stymies them. Accordingly, they are likely not to vote at all.
I will not contend that this is wrong. In fact, I understand the feeling totally. But I do believe there is another way for serious followers of Jesus to understand what a faithful response to the current political realities represents. And it is at this point that it makes sense to think of our political mission.
Our (most who participate in the electoral process) default way of thinking is to find the perfect candidate when measured against our values and goals as followers of Jesus. Okay, we all know there would never be a perfect one. So, who would be most perfect? Who would approximate best the agenda and strategy and actual record of Jesus’ way? (Of course, we have the perpetual problem here of multiple viewpoints even among serious followers of Jesus—so consensus here is always difficult at best) Thus, we examine the candidates and their positions on all the issues, compile data and organize on a chart. Perhaps we draw up “voter’s guides” that highlight all of this. Let the one with closest correspondence win our vote. Alternatively, we may have committed, informally if not formally, to a party or a cluster of positions within a party, and then will seek the one who corresponds most closely. But what do you do if no one comes close to measuring up, and all of them fail to correspond so miserably that it seems no better than a coin toss? Precisely!
Here is a problem with our default way as I see it. We are focusing on a person, the person, primarily, and assuming the burden of assessing and deciding about which one can bear the weight of our expectations and hopes. We do this as though there really ever could be such a one, as though all our hopes and believing responses could be invested in any such one. As if such a one, at least conceivably, could really “deliver.”
I want to suggest that we already have such a One. He alone delivers, in multiple ways at multiple levels. Most of us have in fact committed our very lives and all of our hopes to the One. We have acknowledged that indeed he—Jesus—is the One. But we have failed to recognize the profound political nature of our acknowledgement of and commitments to him. We should not focus primarily on which one (no matter who the ones may be) could deliver. This may be borderline idolatry. Rather, we should let the political realities force us to what we already affirm and in other areas gladly embrace. That Jesus is Lord, that for us he is effectively “President.” He is commander and chief. He is the executive, legislative, and judicial—all Three integrated beautifully into One. And he has spoken and signaled the way forward.
How does this help us? In several ways. First, it gives perspective we are not likely to have otherwise. We are not choosing a Messiah nor his proxy. It does not all depend on what happens this November. We will live to vote again, and to engage in many other relatively more important and missional assignments for God’s kingdom. We can take the pressure off ourselves and others. We can already enjoy freedom from the worry and anxiety of “wrong” electoral outcomes.
Second, we can approach our duties and privileges as citizens as a function of our mission as followers of Jesus. Not as an endeavor that tracks with or advances our mission, or that we hope will, but as an expression of our mission. Our mission that has profound political consequence. We listen anew as Messiah calls us to mission, which is to bear witness to him, to be salt and light, to be a holy contagion of goodness and grace to the ends of the earth, and to trust that in Messiah’s time it will be mission accomplished. To trust that in our witness there will be blessing and impact, there will be opportunities to draw others into the orb of Jesus’ person and benefit from his accomplished and ongoing work.
For me this opens up the possibility of voting first as a form of witness rather than selection of one over against others. I know this sounds strange, and I know that we normally assume the whole point of voting is to join others in selecting one. (Then, again, with the “electoral college” and other features of our system, we know that voting is not simply or only a matter of individuals directly selecting one over against others.) Still, we are free to vote with the intent primarily of bearing witness rather than “deciding” or “winning.” One form of this that I am considering is “to vote against rather than vote for” as a form of witness. You “vote against by voting for” when you vote for the one who fails to measure up the least. You would not be so much agreeing with or supporting one as disagreeing with and refusing to support the other. You decide that the potential for ill with one warrants a vote for the other. I am not necessarily promoting this, but I am considering it as a form of witness against and opposition to what I perceive to be the ill. Our action bears witness not to ourselves or to any agenda we may have, but to the One we follow, to his always right ways, and with the hope that he will prevail in the end.
Third, I am not suggesting that in some sense “the end” is in sight with the dawn of this election-day. I am suggesting that we have an opportunity to pray for kingdom come, to represent the values and commitments and means of Jesus’ kingdom-bringing way, to cast our ballots as witnesses more than electors per se, and then look for every opportunity to respond to the disappointments, frustrations, anger, fear and desperation of others around us with confident witness to the One whose kingdom is sure. We can participate as witnesses in these and other ways in order to season and leaven the processes and issues with Jesus-light and hope.
Thus, fourth, we can anticipate whoever is elected not being our answer, but being the holder of authority and power for which he or she is ultimately accountable and to whom we are provisionally responsible to support in prayer, in prophetic evaluation, and in loving invitation to consider the better ways of the One we are following who is the answer.
Finally, fifth, we can enjoy the peace—the shalom—of the One who does all things well. He once calmed storms on the sea, and he can calm storms in the culture. He promised his kingdom was at hand, and revealed its nature as dynamic, growing, and transforming. He said it would be like flickering light in darkness, the smallest of seeds in the earth, and a bit of seasoning in the stew. The dynamic, growth and transformation take time, but are sure. He says, do not be of little faith!