Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Christians and Politics

Last week, a friend introduced me to this blog post by Brian Zahnd. The theme of Brian's comments is how Christians ought to behave during this presidential election season. I thought it was very good, and I had an interesting discussion over it when I posted it on Facebook. Some of the comments I received there have prompted me to make a list of my own, intended as a supplement to Brian's excellent and timely comments. Here goes:

1. The United States of America is not the Kingdom of God--not now, not anytime in the past, not anytime in the future. Yes, American mythology holds that North America is the new Canaan, the new Promised Land. Yes, many talk about the faith of the nation's founders as if that makes the nation unique and special. While the nation is in many ways unique, the United States is still one of the kingdoms of this world and thus only temporary. It will last only so long as the present age lasts.

2. All elections are compromises. That's because all candidates are compromises. One cannot vote for an entirely right candidate or vote against an entirely wrong one. There is no such thing as a fully "righteous" or "unrighteous" candidate, and no election will ever usher in a righteous government (see point #1).

3. Christians, applying their faith and their convictions to the choice being offered them, will choose differently. There is never one candidate that all Christians should vote for or one that all Christians should vote against (see point #2).

4. We need to guard our hearts against turning our political beliefs into a false god. Once we start to equate a particular political ideology with God's will, we have started walking down the road to idolatry.

5.  When the election is over, we owe the respect of the office, and of our fellow voting citizens, to the winner--whether we voted for that candidate or not. We don't have to agree with the winner's policies; we don't even have to like him/her. But we ought to respect our fellow voters enough to accept the legitimacy of their choice.

6. We are all, first and foremost, God's image-bearers. Political labels like 'liberal' or 'conservative,' in addition to becoming less and less meaningful, are not good ways to identify our fellow human beings. Let's stop pigeon-holing people according to their political ideology, and let's stop using political labels disparagingly (if at all).

7. Finally, believers have no biblical instructions about voting or arguing about politics, but we are commanded to pray for our leaders. Since neither Jesus nor any of the New Testament writers lived in a participatory democracy, we cannot know what God-inspired wisdom they might bring to the election processes we are familiar with. But we do know what we should be praying for. And it's not that our leaders will see the light, be born again, or change their evil ways (Paul didn't exhort believers of his time to pray thus for the pagan Roman emperor); instead, it's "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (I Timothy 2:1-2).

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