2 Brief Thoughts on Elections

Christians make two mistakes when it comes to elections.  Either we are triumphalist, thinking that because our candidate won, all will be well, or we are defeatist and despairing, thinking that because our candidate lost, all will be lost.  Both reactions are mistaken.

Elections Are Important

Don’t get me wrong–politics matters.  I voted yesterday, and I think it matters who is elected, from dog catcher to president, and I want our leaders to lead and our government to run well.  It matters whether the trains run on time and the roads are paved and the trash picked up.  But as important as all that is, politics is not ultimate, and political power is not most important.  There is something more important than politics, and therefore Christians shouldn’t make the mistake of believing that our hope depends on how the election returns come in.

But Political Power is Not *Most* Important

Faithfulness is more important than politics and election results.  David Watson is the Dean of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and he wrote a blog post yesterday about the temptation the church faces to value political power over faithfulness.  Professor Watson’s article is worth quoting from at length (though you should read the whole thing):

My fellow evangelicals, let me state this clearly: the “system” will never serve us, because the “system” is not of Christ. The “system” is a political machine beholden to special interests, lobbying groups, large corporations, financial contributors, and other entities, many of which are not the least bit concerned with anything remotely resembling Christian values. The idea that you can tear down the “system” and reshape it to serve you is, and always has been, a lie. It has been a lie since the time of Constantine. The “system” is about power, but Christ’s power is the power of the cross, and God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Christians must always stand outside the “system,” even when it is ostensibly Christian. As Christ taught us, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). Christians willing to compromise core tenets of the faith in order to bend the political process to their will may win in the short term, but it will be a pyrrhic victory. In the end, they will lose far more than they gain. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36). It’s not worth it. It’s not even close….

His ending makes our choice clear:

Who will we follow? Will we follow Christ and rightly understand ourselves as a countercultural family of faith, or will we baptize an idol of crass materialism, place a crown on its head, and call it Jesus?

Good stuff.

 

 

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11 thoughts on “2 Brief Thoughts on Elections

  1. The anti-triumphalist or anti-fatalist view you mention makes great sense to me. I agree many of us (myself included) tend to be too much of a triumphalist or defeatist based on the outcome of elections. I guess, maybe, that is another way of saying we have become to polarized? But I would have thought that would lead to a view of – no matter how bad or good the President or dog catcher is, it is not all good or all bad, because those individuals are not all bad or all good, plus the system will act as a check and balance on their goodness or badness. And I would agree with that. And I agree that no matter how good or bad things seem in the political or governmental world, we should not pin “all” our hope on that and we should recognize that our faith is more important. But doesn’t some part of our hope actually depend on the direction of the government of our country or state or community? I think our hope should lean, if not depend largely, on our faith, but our faith has to exist in the real world and in the real world, political outcomes, governments, and government leaders do actually matter and those aspects will affect our lives, and perhaps our faith. And the quote of David Watson, really seems anti-government and defeatist to me. His view of “the system” really sounds negative and seems to leave no room for “Christian” politicians to have a positive impact on the system or to lead in a Christian way, because the system is rotten (or completely secular) to the core. I hope the system is not that bad. As you can tell, I am not a “separation of Church and Government” person. I have never held political office, but if I ever did, I would like to think I could do my job in a way that was true to my faith. I think I could serve two masters, but clearly one would trump the other (not Donald Trump the other – LOL).

    • I think you hit upon the central tension: being in the world but not of it. I think it’s important for us to work in the world, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the world will be saved when Christians have political power. The world will be saved by Jesus, and not by us.

      In Babylon, Daniel does excellent work for the Babylonian King, but his ultimate allegiance is to the Lord.

      So, I hope Christians engage in politics, but they should not forget that political power or success is not the primary means by which God will save the world–God will save the world through his church.

      • I agree, I think. I agree that ultimately the world (and all of us) will only be saved by Jesus. But until that happens, I think it is also important for Christians to take their values and standards into the political arena. Politicians do not have to be Christian to get my vote, but they must have the right values, and I think that is more likely to be the case if they are Christian. And not matter who gets elected to any position, that election alone will not sink or raise the ship. But we need to do our best to support and elect those who share our values. And no matter how bad it gets (as a result of the wrong folks being elected, or the right folks making bad decisions), Christians can take comfort that in the end, our God (which includes Jesus) will there with us, He will walk with us, He will comfort us and ultimately, He will bring us home.

        • Yes. I think the issue is that, for 2,000 years, the church has often been severely tempted by temporal power. Absolutely we must have Christians engaged in the public square in the name of Christ, but we should at the same time remember that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. The problem, as I see it, is that the church has often sold out to temporal power and then tried to justify that betrayal by implying that the ends justify the means. Politicians will use the church to get elected, but they will often abandon the church, since they weren’t really interested in the Kingdom of God in the first place. As conservative Christians, I think it is important for us to be clear-eyed when it comes to politics and the temptation to power. Does that make sense?

          • Makes perfect sense. Because we are mere mortals and subject to the human condition, how likely do you think it is that we can live up to our Christian standards (if at all) inside the system. I don’t think we can live up to it perfectly, and we have seen some bad examples where we lived up to it extremely imperfectly, but when we see those imperfect realities play out in front of us (e.g., Catholic priest), we need to deal with them, move on, and work hard to do better (not become fatalist about the system). Every politician (and every person in a position of power) should start every day in prayer. I think David Watson’s view of the political system is fatalistic and just takes of position of “oh well, the political system will always fail us, so lets just accept that as a reality that we can do nothing about”. Bad approach is you ask me. I am all for us focusing on the Kingdom of God and Jesus, and using that as our foundation for living in the world we live in (which requires a political system to manage it)

  2. -I do not think Watson’s position is defeatist or that “the system will always fail us”. The system will only fail those who expect it to deliver them. Not one shred of our hope in Jesus Christ rests on the success or failure of our countries, states, communities, etc.

    • Rodney, I hear what you are saying. The political system will not save us, but I think it is important. think we need both. We need a Jesus that will save us and a government to serve us. Your are right that not one once of our hope in Jesus Christ depends on the success or failure of government, and our hope in Jesus Christ is our ultimate hope, but that does not mean that the success or failure of our governments are of no concern at all or that they have no bearing on our lives. They have a ton of bearing on our lives, but none on our salvation. We are always going to have governments. Surely you all agree with that. Well, wouldn’t you rather have one that serves us the best it can. Isn’t that important. Shouldn’t we try to make government the best we can. Or do we just say, oh well, government doesn’t really matter. All that matters is my faith. Our faith is the most important thing we have, but it is not the only thing we have. I don’t expect the system to deliver us, but I do expect it to serve us and I am willing to get out there and vote, get involved and try to insure we elect candidates that will serve us.

      • Governments appointed and run by people just like me, sinners, cannot offer me salvation. I know that we agree on that. What they can offer me is the opportunity to maintain human life, human liberty (especially religious freedom), and the pursuit of worldly happiness. Those are all great things but only moderately important relative to eternal salvation. I guess I focused on your first post that read:

        “But doesn’t some part of our hope actually depend on the direction of the government of our country or state or community? I think our hope should lean, if not depend largely, on our faith, but our faith has to exist in the real world and in the real world, political outcomes, governments, and government leaders do actually matter and those aspects will affect our lives, and perhaps our faith”

        Our view of government does not have to be binary. I can declare that politics are not ultimately important to my salvation and still earnestly participate in the American political process as a Christian. That is different than my faith in God which IS binary. I like what C.S. Lewis said about the Incarnation of Jesus, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” I admire Daniel for not letting the direction of the local government influence his faith in the Father. Same goes for Stephen and Jesus.

  3. Andrew, so we are clear, I agree with everything you said in this blog. You nailed it, right up to the point of the quote from David Watson. I think Watson’s words are fatalistic, to the extent I know what fatalistic is. Watson says “the “system” will never serve us, because the “system” is not of Christ. ” So, he is saying the system will always fail us, right? No matter what we do, the system will always fail us. Watson says “In the end, [the politicians] will lose far more than they gain. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”. That sounds fatalistic to me? He is fatalistic about the system. And I don’t agree with that. I think we can make the system better, we can improve the system. It will never be perfect, but we must try to make it work as best we can. But what do I know. What I know is the system disappoints me often, but I am not going to sit around a campfire singing Cum By Ya, I am going to try a right the ship, make it a better system, with God’s help.