The US elections is less than a week away. Before I go into the main topic I do encourage citizens to vote. Historically Mennonites did not vote or participate in government, but Mennonites have generally changed their opinions on voting. It’s obvious that no political system is perfect, but the system in the US is relatively good compared to what many other countries have.
I did not think much about politics growing up in Canada. My parents moved to Canada from Paraguay and didn’t seem to have a strong political opinion so I didn’t inherit an opinion from them. I didn’t think much about politics until I came to the US. When I first moved to the US from Canada in 2001, George W. Bush had just won a very tight election that took more than 5 weeks to decide. Since coming to the US, I have been forced to figure out how my faith relates to politics because political discussions are very religious. It’s a journey that I’m still on. Becoming a pastor has pushed me to put my journey into words and to take a stronger position than I would’ve had I not been a pastor.
At the core of elections is the power to vote. Some people are cynical and believe their vote carries no power, but there is power in voting and your opinion does matter. Here we have a chance to express our beliefs and truly affect our lives and the lives of people around us. Now, if only there was a political party that truly embodied Christian values that I could vote for. And here is where the problem with this power to vote comes into play: people will try to persuade you that there is only one right way to vote as a Christian.
When I read the newspaper, I often glance over the editorials and I notice how Christians that are Democrats question how anyone can be a Christian and vote Republican and I also read how Christians that are Republicans question how anyone can be a Christian and vote Democrat. Both kinds of editorials have scriptures justifying their points.
Government is based on power and authority which is given through voting and this is a good thing. Scripture is quite clear that governing systems and the people that are put into power are there so that we can live together. Without government, chaos would reign and when chaos becomes too great for too long it causes life to be unbearable. Take a look at the Syrian refugee crisis for an example of how bad a civil war can get. It makes a global pandemic look like a walk in the park.
Politics is mostly fear based. Republicans tell us that Democrats are intent on harming you and the Democrats talk the same way about Republicans. They want to destroy your environment, make the rich richer and steal your life with enormous medical bills and medicines you can’t afford. Or they want to tax you, take your guns and remove your freedom.
Typically the Christian debate on who to vote for boils down to choosing the lesser of two evils. At that point, we start debating on what makes something less evil than another thing. It is a depressing debate. When you vote, your party doesn’t care why you vote for them, they just want your vote. They will tell you that your vote can bring hope and change or your vote can make America great, that way you can feel good about yourself and your vote.
What distresses me about elections is that many in the church actually believe that their vote is obedience to Jesus. Some church leaders have leveraged their influence to gain power to affect government policy by endorsing a particular candidate. When churches behave this way, they are using their power in the same fashion that the world uses it’s power and that is not good. The work of the church will change the world around us and we do affect politics, but how the church uses it’s power is part of the gospel message and some churches have become corrupted by mixing their faith with politics.
There are a couple of times when the gospels record the disciples debating on who is the greatest among them. And this causes Jesus to explain the fundamental power structure of his kingdom.
The early church often faced hostility from the Roman Empire, but the early church didn’t fight back using the world’s ways. Instead, the church relied on the power of Christ. The Roman Empire is long gone and it’s power is gone, but the church still lives and many of the descendants from the Roman Empire are now members of the church. The power of Christ is far greater than the nations, even if the church looks weak.
The book “The Upside-Down Kingdom” by Donald Kraybill highlights the differences in rules that govern our world and compare it to God’s Kingdom. A scripture found in Luke 22 sets the ground work for his book which basically states that how God’s Kingdom works is upside down from the way our nations work. The world (or nations) tends to work in a Top-Down fashion where the powerful people at the top are served by the weaker people on the bottom. Also the world focuses on outward appearances where beauty matters more than character. God’s Kingdom works from the bottom up where the least are served by the great and from the inside-out where outward appearances don’t matter as much as the heart.
A dispute also arose among [the disciples] as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.Luke 22:24-30 NIV
This scripture emphasizes the idea of servant leadership. There have been a number of good servant leaders throughout history. Jesus isn’t the first, but he is the best.
If you are a savvy politician, you will style yourself as a servant leader, serving the nation. It is, after all, a catchy theme, but it is an illusion. Politics is mostly about how much money you raise to get elected or reelected and who is giving you the money to put you into power. The politicians are servants, but they serve the benefactors who have the money to purchase power. I am cynical. The best of our politicians, even if they can on occasion be a true servant to the people in some situations, will ultimately serve the true benefactors who have paid their way. Money does rule politics.
Jesus came into the world and while he had power and authority, he used it to benefit others. Jesus relied on friends and disciples for his daily living. He had no home. No steady income. He was unpopular with the leaders. He could have used his miracles to generate wealth. He could have used miracles to feed himself. He could have thrown himself from the top of the Temple and had angels catch him to make people believe him. Instead, Jesus took the full burden of our sin and carried it like a servant to the cross, and we are the ones who benefit. When Jesus rose from the dead, we benefit again, because Jesus shares his Kingdom with us. We have become the benefactors of Jesus’ servant leadership because Jesus did the work and we received the gift.
The form of godliness without it’s power
If Jesus could bring about God’s Kingdom through political power, don’t you think that he would’ve reestablished Israel and the Law of Moses instead of dying on the cross? Paul reminds us that the Law is powerless to save:
The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.Romans 8:3 NLT
Politicians go through the religious motions, put their hand on a Bible, they talk about morality and Judeo-Christian values, and even if the politicians have a sincere desire to follow through on what is right, and even when they live a life of sincere faith in the church, the sinful nature of the world around us will weaken them in their work. Politics has a form of godliness without it’s power.
The church is the only body on earth that can truly represent the goodness of Jesus because we are the only body that has the power of Christ. True hope and change come from the church, not a political party. Any party that promises greatness only promises the empty greatness that looks impressive on the outside but lacks the heart of God’s Kingdom on the inside.
Are you wondering how you should vote in the upcoming elections? When you vote remember this: While your vote makes a difference, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as taking part in the great commission. When we enter our rest at the end of our days on earth, Jesus won’t congratulate you for voting the right way, he will congratulate you for being a good and faithful servant by obeying his commands: to forgive your enemies, pray for those who cause you problems, to love your neighbor, to love your brother and sister in Christ and serve each other and to make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands.
If you truly care for this nation, then invest in the great commission because that will bless your neighbors more than anything else we can do.