The 2018 mid-term election is finally here. Like most of you, I can’t wait for the cessation of political advertising. The campaign season has not revealed our best selves, but our worst. It leaves me with the feeling in my gut like I’ve just done something or seen something shameful. We can’t blame the politicians for this completely. We’re the ones who respond to the fear mongering, the tribalism, and misinformation of a campaign season far too long for anyone’s good.
Beyond the campaign itself, tomorrow’s election will be claimed as a victory for some and a loss for others. The losers will cry out over the state of the union, and the victors will declare that their vision, and even manipulative tactics, have been vindicated, even endorsed. Neither response will be true. As divided as we are, the results of the election are likely to leave all of us losers, because the gridlock and incivility that have become habits will still rule.
That said, we must vote. It is a civil responsibility for every citizen. People have died for your right to vote. It dishonors their sacrifice to discard your duty. All the rhetoric I hear that demonizes the “government,” that makes “government a necessary evil” or worse, the enemy, is cynical to the point of evil. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressman and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
As a Christian, we have a spiritual duty as well. Some folks think that separation of church and state means that Christians should leave faith at home and not bring it into the public square. That’s nonsense since the separation only applies to the government’s establishment of religion, not my application of faith to my citizenship. God works through the imperfect rule of government to sustain order and some modicum of justice and peace. The “left hand” kingdom of this world is still part of Divine providence, even if not an eternal one. Cyrus of Persia was seen as an instrument of God’s deliverance of God’s people, even though he worshipped other gods. Luther is credited with saying that he would “rather have a just Turk (Muslim) for a ruler than an unjust Christian.”
As Christians head to the ballot box, I think there are a few things we should remember. First, it says in Philippians 3:20, “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul means that while we have citizenship in some nation (he was a Roman citizen), our primary, our ultimate citizenship is not to a nation that will pass away but to a reign, initiated in Christ, that will not. That means, for me, that my allegiance to Christ stands above, and sometimes against, my allegience to party and nation.
Second, we should never make the mistake of thinking that the candidate we are selecting is ordained by God or some manifestation of the truth. Government on this earth is always fallible and broken. There are no leaders who are saviors or our superiors. Democracy does not establish elected kings. As C.S. Lewis says, “The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”
Third, no one we elect will save us. No one we elect will ruin us. Only God has those powers. In the end, God will prevail. That means that the reign of God revealed in Jesus Christ is what will ultimately come to pass. This reign cares for the poor, establishes peace, reconciles people, brings enemies together and sacrifices for the sake of neighbor. Seek candidates who do these things.
When I vote, I give my vote away, because that’s what Jesus teaches. By this I mean that I will not allow my own fear and self-interest to sway me – no matter how hard the candidates try to scare me. Freed in Christ, I use my vote to vote with those who have the least power, the smallest voice, and the biggest struggles. If I pray for the sick, imprisoned, oppressed, hungry and hated, then I have to vote with them.
May God grant us peace in the face of change – or the lack of it. May this election somehow, someway move us toward our better selves.
copyright © 2018, Timothy V. Olson