My Perspective on the Presidential Election
After a seemingly never-ending parade of months and months of campaigning, our national election cycle has finally come to an end. And what a dramatic finish! I’ll be honest: I have friends on both sides of the aisle, and it’s been a bit embarrassing to watch some of the post-election reactions. Some people are acting like Jesus version 2.0 was just elected; others seem to think the antichrist was just given the keys to the White house.
If you don't have any good friends with a different perspective from yours, you may live in an information bubble. People in a bubble have no influence for change; they only give and encounter reinforcing messages. If that's you, that room you're in is an echo chamber, not a conversation. And it simply reinforces the divisive nature of the political game.
In the New Testament, I don't see Paul expending emotional energy based on who occupied the emperorship. There is no record that he was happy or sad or placed hope in the policies of Rome based on whether Tiberias or Caligula or Nero occupied office. This doesn't mean that policy doesn't matter, but here's the deal: the healing and restoration our nation needs cannot be accomplished by the occupant of the White House; we face a crisis of life transformation that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the gospel.
I think it is difficult to interpret a moment when you’re in the middle of it, and it will only be in a few years that we can truly understand the significance of this election. So rather than offering a ‘this is what this means’, I want to deal with something more basic. I want to ask, How can we be proactive without compromising our witness? There are several perspectives I believe we must embrace as Christians.
1. The Lord He is God. From the time Israel asked for a king (1 Samuel 8), God’s people have been prone to look to man rather than God to sort out our mess. When our vision of God is as big as He is described in the Bible, anxiety flees from our heart and we are filled with peace. Remember: God is both omniscient and sovereign: he knows how the story turns out (1 John 3:27) and he is in charge of what happens (Psalm 115:3). The Lord is always involved in accomplishing his purpose.
2. Appropriate Proportion. We have just elected a president, something we do every four years. Eight years ago I remember a close friend saying, ‘This is the most important election we’ve ever had’. Four years ago someone told me, ‘This is the most important election in our lifetime’. On November 8th I heard this phrase: ‘This is the most important election I can remember’. Here’s the deal: they’re all important, but none of them are ultimate. They’re just elections. And we do this often. And it is a president, not emperor of the universe, that we’ve elected.
3. Time marches on. I remember sitting with a family when Newt Gingrich was sworn in as Speaker of the House after leading Republicans to victory with his contract with America in 1994. This family wept as if they were with Mary at the tomb of Jesus. They interpreted those events as the beginning of a great movement across our nation. But I ask this: how did the gospel do over the next four, or six, or ten, or fifteen years? Though prosperity is good, our primary metric has to be gospel advance, not the GDP.
4. The country is not the kingdom. Some Christians conflate our national identity with our Christian identity. This happened to believers in Rome who could not comprehend that God would allow the Visigoths, led by Alaric, to sack Rome in 410AD. They believed that Rome equaled the City of God; Augustine wrote City of God to remind them that we are looking for a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). All earthly kingdoms are temporary; empires rise and fall, but the unshakeable kingdom of God endures forever. If Christians put as much effort into evangelism as they have into talking politics for the last eighteen months our nation would be transformed.
5. Involved but not dependent. I believe Christian engagement in politics is important, but we can err in one of two ways: when things go our way, we can put too much trust in the political system to accomplish kingdom results. When things don’t go our way, we can lose hope and become cynical and disengage. The root of both these reactions is inordinate trust in the political system and human leaders. Rather, God tells us to trust in the Spirit, not man (Isaiah 31:3).
6. Gracious without Compromise. It is always righteous to be kind. The degree of arrogant, hateful, vitriolic reaction exchanged by winners and losers over social media and other places the last two weeks is heart-breaking. We do not represent Jesus well by gloating or defaming. Humility and graciousness are always virtuous. We should put on Christ, practice kindness, and walk in love towards everyone – especially those who disagree with us.
7. Enemy at the Gate. Remember who the enemy is. An eye-opening statistic in the Washington Post says that more than 40% of Democrats and Republicans believe the other party’s policies are so misguided they pose a threat to the nation. With this perspective, someone of a different color – Red or Blue – becomes the enemy. But Paul said that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). If we don’t remember that the devil is the devil and that darkness is ultimately spiritual, we will vilify people. If we think someone who voted differently from us is a bad guy, we will have a difficult time reaching out in proactive love to lost people (Luke 15) whose political views are different from ours. Remember – however you voted, half the nation disagreed with you. Our question is how we can reach people both red and blue with the gospel.
8. Remember the Youth. We have to understand how age informs perspective. Among voters 18 to 29, Clinton defeated Trump 55%-37%. There is a significant disconnect between the generations. And when we consider that evangelicals voted 80% in favor of Trump, it means that there is a huge disconnect between gospel-centered churches and young people. Regardless of how you voted, this should concern us. If we frame the future in terms of some old-school political vision for America and do not engage the hearts and minds of young people, we will lose them for the gospel.
Only fifty-five percent of Millennials (the generation born between approximately 1982-2002) think that religious organizations have a positive effect on the way things are going in this country. They are socially, economically, and politically liberal. They have imbibed the increasingly secular orientation of our culture. And yet, in this, there is opportunity: they crave genuine community more than status and economic success. If our churches can be safe places of love, acceptance, and forgiveness while clinging to biblical standards of truth and ethics it may be that they can embrace the alternative vision we offer of a much better future.
9. Eye on the ball. Jesus has given us a mission, and that is to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. If we’re not careful, we can try to squeeze God’s mission into our lives rather than squeezing our lives into God’s mission. We end up treating the purpose of God like a buffet from which we can choose the good bits, the things we like. But that is not how it works. That is like a batter complaining to a pitcher because he didn’t hit the bat with the ball. It’s the batter’s job to adjust the bat to the ball. And it’s our job to adjust our lives to the mission of Jesus.
10. Salt and Light. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus frames our essential nature with these powerful indicative statements: you are the light of the world, you are the salt of the earth. Consider this: the only way we can be salt and light is if we lead with the gospel. If we lead with politics - if we put priority on converting others to our political perspective prior to introducing them to the love and truth of Christ, we lose. We cannot accurately represent the reconciliation on offer in the gospel to a nation hurt and lost by leading with politics: the gospel must be front and center.
So what does all of this mean for CBU? It means that we’re going to keep doing what we do. It means we’re going to keep following Jesus and going to the nations to make disciples. It means we're going to keep working on Project 215, Project 224, and the 2020 Vision.
The last instruction Jesus gave to his followers as to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19). The books of Acts is the confirmation that they took Jesus seriously and did what he told them to do. The epistles confirm that this disciple-making involved establishing churches where new believers could be nurtured in their faith by a community of established Christians.
In summary, the three-fold perspective we need to discern our times is an understanding of God, his church, and his mission. The God-ness of God reminds us that He is in control and working his plan. The promise of scripture reminds us that Jesus is always building his church. And the mission of God reminds us that we are always called to be engaging our world with the gospel.
When we give God, his church, and his mission the appropriate place in our lives, when the purpose of God is the constraining factor in our vision, all the other stuff will fall into the right place. Remember, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.