You may or may not have noticed, but 2016 is a presidential election year in the United States of America. And I would like to confess something to you: I have never been more grieved or worried about my country as I have been this past year. I have not been sure what to do with my feelings for quite some time. I really don’t want to get into telling people who to vote for. I don’t want to be on anyone’s political team. But I am, more than anything, concerned about the Christian environment that my children are growing up in as it relates to their citizenship in this country.
I’ll be direct here, because I’m not planning on writing much on this: I’m not going to vote for either presidential candidate from the major parties. Again, I’m not telling you what to do. I know that things are complicated and people will choose different courses of action. I get that. Fair enough. I’m not going to persuade you to do otherwise. I just don’t want people guessing that I have some hidden agenda for either candidate. I don’t.
It’s not very hard to find a Christian rationale for my refusal to vote for Hillary Clinton. My liberal friends are making that case clearly enough while they grit their teeth and pledge their support, even though they didn’t get Bernie. Being “pro-life” means more than caring about abortion (and Republicans score low in many of these other areas), but Hillary’s brazenly, excessively pro-abortion stances are distasteful to me. And then there’s all the other stuff which isn’t very hard to find. She’s the second most disliked presidential candidate in the modern era, in the history of measuring unfavorables. That’s amazingly bad.
Of course, the Republicans have gone one better. Donald Trump is the least liked candidate in history. And he’s earned it. Donald Trump may not be a racist (I don’t think he is), but there’s a reason why the alt-right, racist crowd likes him so much. He pretty blatantly stirs up racial fears for his own good. I’m pro-life, so seeing a candidate advocate for killing non-combatant relatives of terrorists and bringing back more extensive torture methods is… horrifying. I can give you a hundred, a thousand reasons why I won’t support Trump. The fact that we have numbers one and two in the Most Disliked category in the same election is, pretty clearly (in my mind), divine judgment. I’ve heard many Christians speak so poisonously of Hillary Clinton that anyone is better. Well, polling-wise, the other major option isn’t really better at all. It is the hatred and fear of the Clinton name that legitimizes a Trump vote for Christians who would normally have nothing to do with him.
But if you really and truly believe that one candidate or the other will, literally, be the destruction of this country… Like you think that there will be no more common good because we will cease to exist as a nation, then I understand your vote for the marginally-lesser-of-two evils. I do. If you really do think that we may die when the other person is inaugurated, it makes sense to me that you’ve done the calculations and you can swallow one candidate or the other. You really should do that, if you’re convinced that will happen.
Can I make a suggestion for all of us Christians in this election, though? Let’s stop, out of fear and hatred for “the other one,” praising the candidate we make our beds with as if they are actually praiseworthy. I don’t really know more than a couple people on either side that are thrilled about either candidate. So let’s not pretend we’re thrilled! I think this is vitally important, not from a political standpoint, but a missional standpoint. And mission is more important than politics. People are watching how Christians conduct themselves towards these two candidates. And they will remember what they see when we then try to tell the Good News of Jesus.
If Christians in the United States cannot find a way to explain that they hate the blatant hate-stirring, fear-pandering lies of Donald Trump but they will vote for him as a necessary evil, then we are so hopelessly off the rails, we deserve whatever judgment from God comes. If a Christian in the United Sates cannot find a way to vocally condemn the lying, self-serving, abortion-glorifying campaign of Hillary Clinton and only give her their vote because she is a necessary evil, then we have no moral witness. We cannot give in to the logic of the kingdoms of this world.
The logic of the world was on display at the Republican National Convention. Ted Cruz was invited to speak there and claims he told Trump’s people he would not endorse him. Who knows if that’s true. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t (I wasn’t too keen to vote for him either). But the man stood up there and basically preached his convictions and conservative values and told people to vote their consciences. And what happened? People booed him off the stage for that. Why? Because he wouldn’t bow the knee to and kiss the ring of a man who passed on ridiculous conspiracy theories about his father and who mocked his wife. He was booed off the stage and heckled out of the convention center for… what? Telling people to vote their conscience? Obey their conscience?
This is the logic of the world’s power. You must be captive to our guy 100%. You must worship the emperor. You can have your God. But you must worship the emperor-god, too. But we must be absolutely clear, in all things, who is our king: our king is Jesus. We participate in the political life of our country because we have the privilege to do so. We submit to our government by participating in its governing. We must be absolutely clear, though, about where our allegiance lies first: Jesus. Not any party. Not any person except Jesus. If we live by the world’s rules, we muddy the waters and fuzz up the picture.
I think Christians must do some things, no matter who we vote for, in this election season so that the name of Jesus is not sullied by our conduct:
1. Do not hesitate to name evil as evil. Even if you intend to vote for Trump or Clinton, you have to be loyal to the codes of following Jesus above the codes of party politics. Who cares if the “mainstream media” is making a big deal out of your person’s flaws and not the other person’s? If something is wrong, name it as wrong. Don’t hedge on immorality for the sake of political point scoring or because they’re the person who you will vote for.
2. Do not be seduced by the narratives of hatred and fear employed by both candidates. I have felt the whispers, the temptation to be afraid for my children, for our country because of what I see. These two candidates are using disgust to mobilize people in ways that are astounding to watch. We cannot be amongst those who are swayed by their song. We are anchored to a sure hope that transcends the fluctuations of history. We are, at our core, at peace. Or we should be. We can’t assent to their arguments of fear.
3. Pursue the peace and common good of our local communities. As individuals, we are not going to transform the nation with our meager votes for president. We won’t. We never will. But we can influence our towns and cities. We can be good neighbors. Our churches can be institutions that our cities come to love and rely upon as agents of reconciliation working on behalf of flourishing for all the residents of our town. We should spend our lives towards that end.
Finally, a word from Peter that we should all probably mediate on daily:
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:11-17
For the sake of the clarity of our allegiance, our witness, I pray I remember these words and live in such a way to demonstrate with my life what I claim with my mouth:
Jesus is Lord.