The day is almost upon us. After the never-ending campaigning, debates, and the seemilgly nonstop campaign ads flooding the airwaves, it has all come down to this: Election Day. This season leads many to wonder what role (if any) the church should have play in the elections. The sermon from October 19th dealt with some of those questions. If you’re interested in listening, you can click here.
I’ve found some other resources that I’ve found beneficial as I’ve prepared to cast my vote tomorrow. If you’re still trying to navigate the political landscape, I think you’ll find these links helpful, too. Even if you’ve already made your decision, I think they’ll be helpful to you, too:
- Interviews with Barrack Obama and John McCain by Rick Warren at the Saddleback Forum
- Delaware County candidate profiles
- Mark Batterson’s sermon from National Community Church, in “the vortex of politics” in the heart of D.C. I think he handles the issue extremely well.
Here’s the manuscript from my election-related sermon:
I want to confess to you that this morning’s message has been one of the most difficult ones I’ve had to prepare. I think part of the problem has been that I feel like there are a million things to say about how we, as followers of Christ, should approach this coming election. And at the same time, I have felt like I have absolutely no idea what to say about the elections. As we share this time together, it is my prayer that you don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say or try to read too much into my words this morning. Unlike some pastors, I’m not going to stand up here and tell you who you should vote for. Nothing I’m going to share is an attempt to secretly tell you who God’s candidates really are. So don’t try to find a hidden message here because it’s not there. For some of you, that’s probably a relief. For others, it might be a little discouraging. You might be like me and hoping for God to send down some neon sign with the names of the candidates flashing in bold lights, telling you who you should vote for. Although I’ve been looking for that sign, I haven’t seen it yet. So I wouldn’t expect to see that sign during my message this morning. That would certainly make things easier, wouldn’t it?
Perhaps before I go much farther, it would benefit you to understand where I’ve been so you’ll know where I’m going with this. I’ve spent a good deal of my Christian life wrestling with what role, if any, the church should play in American politics. And I’ve gone from one extreme to the other, and probably every point in between. There was one time when I bought into the argument that it’s only through the working of the government that the kingdom of God is going to be advanced and protected. It was the Christian’s duty, I believed, not only to be well-informed in political issues, but to be an active, card-carrying member of a particular political party. Along with that thought, I was led to believe that this particular party was the only party Christians should vote for. And if you didn’t go in and vote the party line, you somehow didn’t take your faith seriously enough. And we still hear this argument thrown around from time to time. Republicans say they don’t see how you can be a Democrat and remain faithful to Christ. In the same way, Democrats say they don’t see how you can be a Republican and remain faithful to Christ. As I have grown in my faith journey, I have discovered that there are some very committed, very dedicated followers of Jesus Christ who are active members of the Republican Party. I have also met equally dedicated followers of Jesus who are blue-blooded Democrats. I have come to understand that God is not a Republican. God is not a Democrat. I’d venture to say He’s not a Libertarian or a member of the Green Party, either – in spite of what people may try to tell you.
I’ve gone the other extreme, too. I’ve seen the corruption in government. I’ve seen too many good people have their names smeared through the mud and their reputations destroyed because of political power plays. And I’ve wondered if there really is any role that a Christian should play in the United States government and in the American political system. It just seemed too disingenuous, too corrupt, with too little integrity. If we’re supposed to avoid even the appearance of evil, why put yourself in a position where people will automatically distrust you – simply because you are a politician (and we know how slimy politicians can be)?
But that’s not really the message I see in Scripture. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to the book of Romans, ch. 13. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use one in the pew in front of you. Romans 13 is found on page 987 in that Bible. The apostle Paul was the author of this letter to the churches in Rome. Remember the social climate of this time. Harassment of the believers was on the rise, becoming more systematic and intentional. At this time, Caesar had declared himself the son of a god. And because it was Caesar who had united the Roman world into a vast empire, ushering in the Pax Romana, the era of Roman peace, Caesar was also proclaimed to be the savior of the world. Followers of Christ, however, refused to acknowledge Caesar as the son of a god. There’s only one Son of God: Jesus Christ. And they refused to say that Caesar was the lord and savior of the world. There’s only one Lord and Savior of the World: Jesus Christ. These statements weren’t merely theological statements. They were political statements, too. The church began to wrestle with how they should respond to the persecution they were beginning to face. Should they give lip-service to the Caesars, keeping their fingers crossed and secretly worship Christ as the one true Son of God, the Savior of the World? Or should they rebel against their oppressors, leading an uprising against a heathen nation? With these things in mind, Paul says these statements in his letter to the Roman church:
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good…Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (selections from 12:9-21)
And it’s within this context that Paul begins to tell the believers in the Roman church how they should respond to this government that is harassing them more and more.
Read Romans 13:1-7
You get that? Obey your government. The governments that are in power are somehow being used by God. He uses them as their instrument to accomplish His will. Even the ungodly ones can be used by God.
The apostle Peter echoes this same sentiment in 1 Peter 2:13-15. If you still have your Bibles open, flip towards the back of the NT to 1 Peter. It’s found on page 1059 in the red Bibles. The persecution Paul’s audience in Rome has increased. The efforts of the emperors to diffuse this growing movement of Jesus followers have increased. And the rumors about these Jesus followers became more vicious. Because believers referred to each other as brothers and sisters, people began accusing them of having incestuous relationships. And because of the nature of the Lord’s Supper: celebrating the sacrificial act of Jesus on the Cross, they were accused of being cannibals and practicing child sacrifices. And because they didn’t acknowledge the gods of the vast Roman pantheon, but only the One True God, they were labeled as atheists.
In the midst of these scandalous accusations and the increasing threats from the local and national leaders, Peter writes this to the churches:
Read 1 Peter 2:13-15
Did you catch that? In spite of all they’re saying about you and doing to you, submit to the government that God has placed above you. And somehow, God will use the unbelievers to accomplish what He wants accomplished.
These verses don’t really support my impression that Christians should avoid political service and participation in the government process. God can and will use governments to accomplish His will: even those that are not seeking to follow Him.
We find that theme throughout the Old Testament, don’t we?
Look at Joseph. He was a leader in Egypt, a land that did not attempt to follow the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But God used Joseph’s position of influence to eventually save the children of Israel from a famine.
Look at Esther, who essentially won a beauty pageant in order to become the queen of Persia. She wasn’t chosen because of her intellect or because of her understanding of international affairs. She was chosen because of her beauty. She was the ultimate trophy wife. She wasn’t expected to have any input on the king’s policy decisions. In fact, all she could do was sit there and look pretty. That was her job. Voicing any type of opinion could mean certain death. But, her uncle reminded her that she might “have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14). The Jews faced annihilation because of one of the king’s policies. And Esther used her position and whatever influence she could sway over the King to convince him to revoke his earlier decree. The scattered children of Israel were saved. And God used a polytheistic government that had placed His chosen people under its own thumb to do it.
Because of their integrity in the midst of a corrupt, heathen government and culture, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego led Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to praise God and decree that He alone should be worshiped. They were so dedicated to the cause of the Lord that they chose not to bow down before a large statue of the King – even though it meant the death penalty. Because they didn’t compromise in the face of certain death, the politics and theology of Babylon was turned on its head.
There are other examples that I could mention from the stories of the Old Testament, but I think my point has been made. Yes, you can remain active in government – even a corrupt government – and maintain your faithfulness to Christ. Because God can use whatever He wants. Even corrupt governments.
There’s an important uniting factor amongst these examples I shared. They lived lives of integrity. They chose to do what was right, regardless of the cost. They didn’t let political expediency or personal career advancement get in the way of maintaining their faithfulness to God. And there was a cost to such a commitment. When Joseph was approached by his boss’s wife, he fled. He was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. And through all of that, he remained faithful. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, along with Queen Esther, understood that their necks were on the line. They could have sat back and remained quiet. But they chose to maintain their integrity and do what they knew was right.
And as the 2008 elections draw closer, we need to make the decision to maintain our integrity, too. That, my friends, might be the key issue of this coming election. In a recent article about the upcoming election, Bob Hyatt has this to say:
“I watch in amazement as every four years, well-meaning Christians who are otherwise committed to values of truth and controlling our tongues descend into the pit of partisanship, smears, and tale-bearing. You know how it goes. You have genuine concerns about the other guy (or gal) and so, with few qualms, repeat whatever was told to you by someone in the parking lot or that you heard on the talk radio show or read on that extremely well fact-checked source, the Internet. Of course, all the stuff the other side is saying about your candidate? Yellow journalism and lies…We believe whatever our side says, refuse to even listen to the other side, and generally put critical thinking aside. I’m sad to say that over the last few months, I’ve seen good Christians who genuinely love Jesus repeat tale after tale (many later proven false or exaggerated) about both major tickets in this election – all with the intention of making others think less of the one being talked about. Didn’t we use to call that gossip?”
As we engage the political process this election season (and during their terms, too), we need to practice integrity in the words we say about the candidates and our leaders. As we get closer and closer to this year’s election, it appears that the supporters, pundits, political ads, and even the campaigns themselves are going to get nastier and nastier. Some people have resorted to name-calling: McSame and Nobama are some pretty common nicknames that you find in online forums and political blogs. Resorting to name-calling really lacks integrity, doesn’t it? And all it does is increase division.
Look at some of the bumper stickers that have been popular over the past ten years or so: “Don’t blame me, I voted for Bush” “Charlton Heston is my President” “Don’t blame me, I voted for Gore” “Sore Loserman” “Not my Man” “Ditch Mitch”
People talk about how nasty the political process has become. It seems that the age of civility and niceness has gone away. But I wonder if there ever really was an age of civility and niceness. Listen to these newspaper quotes about a Presidential candidate from the past:
“He is a third-rate Western lawyer…The conduct of (his) party in this nomination is a remarkable indication of a small intellect, growing smaller…They took up a fourth-rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar,” and whose speeches are “illiterate compositions… interlarded with coarse and clumsy jokes.”
“(He) is the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms, and hatchet-face ever seen upon a single frame. He has most unwarrantably abused the privilege which all politicians have of being ugly.”
Do you know who those were about? These quotes were found in newspapers discussing the current national election of the day: the 1860 race between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. And yes, these quotes were about Abraham Lincoln and his candidacy. (Team of Rivals)
I understand the passion to support the candidate you’ve decided is the best candidate, but we need to remember to maintain our integrity and avoid the name-calling, trash-talking, dragging people’s names through the mud, and fear-mongering. That’s not submitting to our government. It’s not living lives of integrity. And it’s certainly not living the life governed by love that Christ calls us to live.
Speaking of fear-mongering, People have been trying to scare by saying things like, “This is the most important election of our lives.” We’ve seen this song and dance before, haven’t we? In 2000, we were told it was the most important election of our time. The same was true of 2002, 2004, and 2006. And while this election is important, and it might well be the most important election of our time – I don’t know. But don’t allow people to use fear to motivate you to vote for one person or another in this election. Remember what the Apostle Paul has told us in regards to living in fear, found in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”
The problem with elections is that there’s always a loser. Someone’s going to get the short end of the stick. It’s divisive. No matter how much we try to teach our children about good sportsmanship, I don’t think any of us likes to lose. If you’re a fan of IU football or Purdue football this year, you definitely know that it stings to lose. None of us likes it. And in elections, there’s a winner and there’s a loser. And the losing side doesn’t like it. And that causes division, doesn’t it? We have red states and blue states. We have the “Left Coast” and “flyover country.” Politics have divided us. We hear all this talk about uniting both sides of the aisle and working together in bipartisan ways, but how many times do you really see that happen? For the last 16 years, we’ve heard presidential candidates talk about how they reach across the aisles. And at the same time, our country is seriously divided on political issues. We label people as “extremist” and “polarizing.” Those aren’t words I normally think of when I think of unity.
Can politics unite us? No. And we need to remember that as we, the church, try to faithfully follow Christ and navigate our way through today’s culture and government. The only one who can truly unite us is Jesus Christ. He is the One who brings true unity. He is the one who brings us together. And that happens every Sunday morning as we gather around the Lord’s Table to celebrate the broken body and poured out blood of the One true Savior, Jesus Christ. And we, the church, are the body of Christ, the hands and feet of our Lord here on earth. And He wants to accomplish amazing things through us.
As citizens of the United States, we have an amazing opportunity to add our voice to the conversation. But we cannot begin to rely on it fully. Yes, God can and does use governments to accomplish His will. But His primary responsibility of sharing the lordship of Jesus Christ has been given to the church. It is the united church that has been called to be peacemakers. It is the united church that has been called to share a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. It is the united church that has been called to be a voice for the widows and the fatherless. It is the united church that has been called to be a shining city on a hill.
We cannot sit back and hope for the government to swoop in and fix things. Because of this, we cannot pin all of our hopes and dreams on a particular candidate. When we do that, we elevate the government to the status of Lord, don’t we? And Jesus Christ came to show us that He is Lord.
So, how do we, as people striving to become fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ, approach this year’s elections? We need to approach the election with integrity. Don’t allow falsehoods and half-truths to cloud your judgment. And certainly don’t spread the rumors. We are supposed to live lives that are above reproach. And spreading those rumors doesn’t make us any different than the ones who are using those rumors to grab power. And in our desire for integrity, we need to try to seek leaders who are living lives of integrity, too.
We also need to keep things in the proper perspective. In a few weeks, there will be winners and there will be losers. We need to remember that while government is not the end-all, be-all, reason for our existence, we are called to submit to our leadership. Whether your candidates win or lose, we need to allow him or her to do their jobs. Don’t allow the division that comes with red-state vs. blue-state politics to invade the church. Because the symbol of the church is not the Stars & Stripes. It’s not an eagle. It’s not a donkey. It’s not an elephant. It’s the slaughtered Lamb who has risen from the grave and stands triumphant.
He is Lord. And we need to allow Him to be Lord of every part of our lives – including our politics.
Pingback: Time to Pray « Continuing the Conversation