Joe pressed his hands to the sides of his head and moaned. The pain of this election was nearly unbearable. The two choices he was presented with made his head spin. What was he to do? He didn’t like either of the candidates. He was disgusted by them both, and surprised that not everyone was as disgusted as he.
Some people were thoroughly behind Clinton, and no flaw, scandal, or potentially criminal act seemed to trouble them. In their eyes, every Clinton negative could be overlooked given the horror that was Trump.
Others were staunch Trump supporters, and they hung on enthusiastically regardless of what disgusting new thing popped out of the stinky water that burbled steadily from under his door. Nothing could dissuade them from their hope of taking down Clinton and preventing the spread of her deadly influence in Washington. Here was a man who would shake up Washington and bring conservatism back to the White House, and hopefully the Supreme Court.
Both the Clinton and Trump supporters were loud. Strident. Shrill. Still, it seemed like there was a solid contingent of Americans who were not comfortable with their choices Joe was not alone – just confused. What was he to do? Was there a particularly Christian perspective to take on the whole thing? Was he asking the right questions?
We, like Joe, need to give this some serious thought.
The wrong question
“Who should I vote for – Clinton or Trump?” “Should I vote at all?” “Perhaps there is a third-party candidate I can get behind.”
In a recent article put out by the Barna Group, George Barna commented that “although Trump has a huge lead over Clinton among evangelicals, the most noteworthy finding in this regard is that more than four out of ten evangelicals currently refuse to vote for either of those two candidates. Nearly three out of ten are presently undecided, making them the largest block of undecided votes still up for grabs. One out of eight evangelicals plan to protest the quality of the major party candidates by voting for a third-party or independent candidate. This behavior by evangelicals is unique over the course of the last nine election cycles.”
More than one option is being considered, but most are still asking that first question – “Trump or Clinton?” – because it is almost certain that one of those two will become the next President of the United States (as long as they stay out of jail).
However, that question – that dichotomy between Trump and Clinton – is a false dichotomy. It’s a bogus choice.
Even though one of them will almost certainly become President, it does not follow that you must choose between those two. You need not, and I think you should not.
The right questions
As Christians, we need to step back and consider who we are, and what our role is in this country. We need to refresh our thinking so that we are asking and answering the right questions.
First, a reminder: if you are a Christian in the United States, your main identity is no longer ‘American’. You are a citizen, still, of the United States, but your citizenship in the Kingdom of God takes precedence. More correctly, you are an ambassador to the United States, albeit one with a special ability to be involved in the affairs of the country. Your citizenship in the US is no longer just about your rights, privileges, and responsibilities, but how your place in this country is useful to the purposes of God.
Therefore, the critical question becomes “What is God’s purpose, here and now?”, which is personalized for the individual and the community of Christians he interacts with as “God, what do you want me and us to be doing, here and now?”
This takes us to the life and teaching of Jesus and the testimony of those he gave insight to, as recorded in the New Testament, so that we can orient our antenna in the framework that Jesus laid out.
The good news is news of a King and a Kingdom.
It’s about the presence of God in a people, and the grace he gives to enable them to live a life marked by love and self-sacrifice.
It’s about freedom from the burdens of sin and fear .
Our instructions are to trust our Creator, and to follow his lead in every aspect of our lives day to day. As we trust and follow we are freed to resist temptation, to love our enemies, to do good to those who do us wrong, and similar super-human feats.
Our focus in external, like a bright light. We are freed to change, and by changing, to change the world around us. This is the good news that we are called to share, model, and teach.
That sounds very idealistic and lofty. How does that fit into the real world?
The nitty gritty of real life
The real world is a swirl of chaos and drama. Needs, wants, fears, hopes and dreams tug us all back and forth, often putting us in conflict. We are bombarded by wars of words, wars of ideas, and struggles for dominance. This strife stirs up fear about these things beyond our control , and the typical reaction is to look to the powers that be in this world to bring stability and opportunity and protection. Better, even, is to become the powers that be.
At least, that’s the pragmatic solution that Christians seem to gravitate towards. If only we can take control of government, we can set things right! But, does the evidence demonstrate that? Ultimately, is pragmatism the best route?
Pragmatism – the road to who-knows-where
This pragmatic approach tries to boil the many-issued struggles of national life into a few key points, and then tries to do either the most good or the least harm.
This mindset is at the center of why most clothespin-on-the-nose voters are voting the way they are. They are motivated – mostly by fear – to try to get at least a finger on the political levers so they can help guide the political system in the direction they see as most important.
But no politician and no party is fully aligned with God. If we put our hopes in man, we will be disappointed. More than that, we can find ourselves participating in great evil.
The required simplification means that we are trading one arguably good thing for some number of bad things. When we put our chips on the candidate that we hope will fix problem X, we are also giving license to cause problem Y. We become complicit.
This is a trap we don’t have to fall in if we realize that we have freedom to participate on the political stage, as long as we are not putting our hopes in the outcome, and as long as we are not violating our conscience or knowingly joining with evil.
In other words, I think we are free to vote or run for office, but not free to vote for people who are clearly flaunting their sin, and not free to use lies or coercion to gain office or influence.
In all of this, recognize that the government machine is a human machine, interested to some degree in truth and justice and freedom, but ultimately a machine that is as broken as humanity out of relationship with the Creator. We can participate in the political sphere, but we are constrained by our allegiance to the King of Kings in how we participate.
OK, then what are we supposed to do?
Pragmatism is a failing approach (I know – an unproven assertion; we can pursue this further in comments or Facebook or over coffee ). Our involvement in government is limited by our commitment to truth and made difficult by values that conflict with those of the system. Are our hands then tied?
No! In fact, we are entirely free. We are free to love. We are free to serve. We are free to demonstrate God’s radical love to the broken world all around us. Whatever the brokenness we find, we are free to bring life and healing.
Does this seem ineffective? It’s the way that God defeated sin and brought the opportunity to be connected to him. Love, care, healing, the proclamation of truth, and ultimately a sacrificial death were the entirely non-pragmatic way that God showed how we are to conduct ourselves in the world. Given the opportunity to ‘make things right’ through the power structures of the world, Jesus instead chose the far more powerful approach of the Servant King.
Can we do both? Can we use the systems of government and play the political games, while simultaneously doing those good Christian things? Can a spring bring forth both fresh and salty water? You can’t have it both ways, because your affirmation of the evil negates the testimony of your supposed faith.
The fallout of this election for the evangelical crowd in the United States will be a much greater reduction of real influence in public life than anyone opposing God’s ways could have hoped for. With every evangelical affirmation of Donald Trump, the world becomes increasingly skeptical of the claims of Christianity. And rightly so.
I heard it said (as an explanation for what is motivating voters this year) that ‘fear trumps hope’. Apart from God, this makes sense. But for those who have put their faith in the goodness and love of their Creator, it is 180 degrees off course. Our hope must be in who God is, and what he is accomplishing in and through us.
So, if you vote this year (and I think you should – a non-vote does not clearly communicate anything) I pray that you will find someone to write in who will not require elaborate explanations to justify.
Communicate to the world that character is more important than the false hopes of political promise-makers.