What some might have thought unthinkable has happened. This November citizens of the United States will cast ballots to elect either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as their next President. Conceivably it could be different, but only in the same way we often say, “I suppose anything can happen.”
That it comes to such a choice is truly remarkable in several ways. While both have a passionately committed following, they also both have an equally or more passionate, and perhaps equally sizeable, segment of voters that would say, “Anyone but that one!” Thus, the next U.S. President might well come into office because she or he has the lower undesirability rating. The victor would then be the least deplored, somewhat like hiring the prospect deemed least incompetent. Both candidates are often cited with serious questions as to suitability both in terms of the type of people they appear to be and in terms of an alleged record of what each has actually done. Finally, the late summer and fall electoral season now promises to be singularly outrageous and abysmally negative, with perhaps a stunning lack of substance. So, what now? Are we to despair over a genuinely Christ-honoring response? Are we to conclude that we face a kind of Ichabod moment, where “the glory” has now truly passed from American soil? No, I would suggest it is time to remember who we are and to whom we belong.
To begin, let us recall that our citizenship is in the Heavens from which we await a Savior, Jesus who is Messiah and Lord (see Phil. 3:20). He will appear and establish his governance, which will require no election and will provide the governance that perfectly matches the needs and potentials of the world which will then be totally redeemed. In the meantime, however, we already recognize the governance of the Heavens; we have already pledged our allegiance to its authority; and, above all, we already live as its citizens, even as we also seek to enjoy the benefits and fulfill the responsibilities of living in the provisional governance of the present world order, in the form of the U.S. for most who will read this. In fact, all followers of Jesus have such dual citizenship, and their primary allegiance belongs to God’s governance. This has enormous consequences for discerning proper responses to the workings of those “provisional” governances of the world. Let me describe a few of them.
We understand and should reaffirm that Heaven’s governance alone matches the longings of all, and extends to the whole world. Inevitably this understanding shapes our views to global proportions. The results of this includes a key insight: No part of the world will be allowed to trump the whole (I’d like to say “sorry,” but I just can’t!). Governance that is good for only part of the world cannot enjoy the unqualified support of the Heavens. Thus, in whatever way we contribute to decision-making and the forming of governments, we will keep the world’s well-being and future in mind as much as our particular part of the world. Ultimately, our hearts beat not simply for our “Fatherland” but for our Father’s Land, which covers the entire globe. Counter-intuitively, and oddly to the mind limited just to a “Fatherland,” good citizenship here and now can be identified only in the light of the governance that will extend everywhere then.
Another consequence of our “dual citizenship” prohibits our granting any candidate or party the reverence due only to the governance of the Heavens. This prohibition appears obvious when we recognize the failings, immoralities, and incompetence of candidates. But we are also challenged not to accord undue reverence to candidates or leaders whose views and values line up well (or even perfectly in our view) with Jesus’ ways. Even a perfectly aligned candidate, if there ever should be one, would not warrant full, unquestioning support or confidence. As it is, of course, we do not need to worry about this presently.
In our electoral considerations we do not look for the best candidate as though one or the other can really be counted on to advance the most important planks of a truly Kingdom-of-God agenda. No candidate should be trusted to do this. In a sense, that is not the objective of the political process we have. Candidates will swear an oath to the office, and will pursue her or his agenda (hopefully) within its bounds. It is not that the oath is incompatible with a Kingdom-agenda, so much as it must not be confused with such, and those who fulfill the oath are bound first to the office and oath, at least that is the public meaning of the inauguration that will begin their governance.
Instead, we should look for the candidate whose policies and governance aligns most with the heart of God for the world, as reflected in the character, way, life and ministry of Jesus. No doubt, this is easier said than done. In fact, this is exceedingly complex and requires much wisdom. It is not like looking at the flower that most resembles and smells like the “Rose of Sharon.” It’s more like knowing that the flower you see has an extensive root system below the surface that draws from and eventually expresses a variety of source-realities that may look and smell nothing like the flower above ground. This is exceptionally complex and not an endeavor on which all devoted followers of Jesus will likely agree.
In our considerations, and one dimension of this complexity, we must remember that the way things are done (or the way proposed for doing what is to be done) is as important as the things themselves. In the governance of the Heavens, ends are never what justify means. Rather, legitimate means will always be compatible in character and quality with the ends. In a word, for example, violent means never lead to loving ends. At the same time, loving means can accomplish the total undoing of evils, such as Jesus accomplished by his own loving sacrifice which was violent, ironically, but only toward his own self and not toward others.
Finally, followers of Jesus must beware over-estimating the significance of this election. Important yes, all important no. Whatever the outcome it will not be the end of the world. That is because the end relates to other realities that the Father has well in hand. Whatever the outcome: Do not be afraid and do not panic, because it is not the end of the world. We must not be deterred from the clearly defined mission of Jesus and the purposes of Jesus-communities, otherwise known as “churches.”
Indeed, I often remind myself that we have a mission no less in the polling booth than anywhere else. Our aim is to participate in civil life as Spirit-filled and guided witnesses to the work of Jesus, and as partners with Jesus in his ongoing mission. The goal is not so much to elect the “right” person (though we hope for that) but to witness to Jesus’ plans for the world. Whatever the outcome there will be things to do as witnesses. Each party claims to stand for some things that are compatible with Heaven’s governance. As followers of Jesus, we must celebrate, support, and extend these things. Each party also stands for or practices things incompatible and even abhorrent to Heaven’s governance. On these fronts we must prophetically name the wrongs and advocate for God’s better ways. And, all the parties omit or diminish some things that God cares about deeply. In response, we seek to “add” the things omitted, deleted, and neglected.
We do this because of who we are and to whom we belong, for Heaven’s sake and the world’s.