The dreaded, but not surprising moment had finally arrived, as my new boss called me into the back room for a “Let’s make sure we understand each other” conversation. I had been working for a couple of years as an apprentice butcher, and the small supermarket where I worked had been sold. I’m surmising that the new owners had heard rumors that there was a “Jesus freak” working in the meat department, a bit of a religious fanatic. He wanted to make sure we had an understanding, so he told me the old adage: There are two things we don’t talk about in the workplace, okay? The first is religion and the other is politics.
They were off limits, or, the two taboos. I was fine with that because I told myself, “I’m not talking about religion anyhow, but about a relationship with Jesus Christ.” I was also safe with the politics taboo, but this was due primarily to my ignorance and lack of experience and perspective.
I want to set aside “conventional wisdom” in favor of Biblical wisdom to help us engage and endure this political cycle. Unless you’ve been on an extended space mission to Mars, you know we’re now deeply mired in the 2016 Presidential campaign in the U.S.
Like the “Veteran Voice of the Octagon,” Bruce Buffer, who tees up the UFC main events with his boisterous and prolonged, “It’s Time!” Well, when it comes to the race for the Presidency and the process leading up to the selecting of a party candidates, it’s definitely time. We’ve already seen some of it in its full, and often, dysfunctional display. I know that politics has never been for the faint of heart. I’m not a political expert, but what I do care about are the conditions and direction of our nation, and the preserving of its unique heritage. This is why I want to take on these “two taboos,” but, more importantly, I want to look at where God and government intersect.
I was recently challenged by this question: “Pastors, are you taking the time to teach your people how to participate intelligently, from a Kingdom perspective, in upcoming elections?”
By the time this is posted, we will have gone through the “Super Tuesday” primaries and things will have much more clarity. We are quite possibly living in a defining moment when “politics as usual” in America is over for good. The old way of doing things in the arena of American politics is over. Just consider some of the options open to us. On one side, we have a lady who has spent her entire adult life getting away with murder, figuratively. Right behind her is the guy who thinks that the system of government that has failed everywhere else that it has been tried, will somehow work splendidly in the United States. He was described by a friend as a “pale pink communist” and many are enamored with him and the failed solutions he champions. On the other side we have a reality television star who people like because he “tells it like it is.” Then, you have two other younger politicians each grappling for the label of the “true conservative.” With double-digit margins of victory, it is painfully obvious that people failed to read the signs: anger, angst, and anxiety that exist in large segments of the American voting public.
This observation from the publication The Transom, captures a lot of what’s happening: “In the course of this election, there have been many moments when it seemed normalcy was going to reassert itself. It was not possible that a socialist could prevail by 20-point margins, or a politically inexperienced developer walk away with a third of the GOP electorate in the early states where no organization had been built. Don’t endorsements matter? Don’t the rules apply? But this year, they seem to matter much less than we thought, if they ever did. The question now is whether or not, going forward, we are going to see a return to normalcy or a cycle that flaunts all the rules and leaves political scientists tearing their hair from their heads.
It seems like ever since the children of Israel requested of Samuel a king, that they could be like other nations, it has become easy for followers of Jesus Christ to lose their proper perspective. “But the people wouldn't listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We will have a king to rule us! Then we'll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles." Whatever human beings need, whatever we want, or whenever our security or well-being is threatened, we look for political solutions. I want to focus on the relationship between civil government as God’s servant, and the church as the agent of God’s kingdom.
No one would argue that governments are essential for good order in a society; the bigger question is which form of government is best able to ensure that good order, and provide the best means to achieve it. Civil governments all over the world are established by God, but this does not necessarily mean they are obedient to Him in all things. Where Christians serve Christ the King, they will seek to bring the civil government from which they benefit into line with the good and perfect will of God, by every lawful means, and at every opportunity.
Government matters, and Christians need to remember good government is to be preferred over bad. We must remember “good government” is government as God defines it, not as men might define it. Words like “freedom,” “rights,” “justice,” and “prosperity” can be manipulated by slippery politicians, but in the hands of God, and according to His Word, such terms have fixed and abiding significance. To suggest that one voting choice people make is equally valid as another is a flawed approach. Proverbs 29:2 tells us: “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. but when the wicked are in power, they groan.”
Michael Kruger wrote: “A vigorous, deep, and thorough debate about what the Bible teaches about politics would be a refreshing change from the postmodern ‘no political position is better than any other’ approach currently in vogue in the modern church. At least then the focus is in the right place: what the Bible teaches.”
THE BACK STORY
How did I find myself in the midst of a private, intimate, sit-down political dinner at a personal 3-acre residence in Beverly Hills, California? Some of the wealthiest, politically-connected individuals in the greater Los Angeles area were present. We were planning on having dinner that night with Dr. Bob Hamilton, and his wife, Leslie. In the interim during the day, Dr. Bob received an invitation to attend this political dinner party for Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate. Dr. Bob said that the only way he could accept is if he was able to bring me along with him as his +1. Our hosts were very gracious people, but all of this was a nice way of saying that I was a freeloader! I don’t attend many functions with a several thousand dollar/plate price tag (donation), even if it was catered by Wolfgang Puck.
I’ve always made it a point to tell people that pastors are “watchers” by calling, since “they watch for your souls.” So that night, I was there very much as the student. I wanted to learn as much as I could. It provoked me to think about this posting. I took away two simple yet powerful scriptural reminders from this event. Each of these two simple truths have profound ramifications. They are the Importance of Participation and the Place of Prayer. Give me your patience to think through the ramifications that each of these practices carry with them.
THE NEED FOR PARTICIPATION
The major way that each of us may participate in our kind of government and electing sound candidates is by exercising our right to vote. The pathway marked the kingdom of God and that of civil government intersect in the voting booth! Exercising our right (privilege) to vote goes beyond simply checking off a box next to a name on a ballot. It means, first, bucking the trend of the current secular progressive narrative. Reams have now been written about theMillennials, and about how many of them are leaving the church. Repeatedly, in article after article, one of the main reasons given for this phenomenon is that the church has become “too political.” This has always puzzled me. When has any of our church services morphed into a kind of political rally promoting some political personality, party, or platform? For that matter, I wonder how many Lutheran, Presbyterian, or various Evangelical groups have become political instruments? That’s when it hit me. When they say “too political,” they’re actually referring to what the Bible calls ethics or morality, values, or general standards of right and wrong. The end game of this kind of narrative is for Evangelicals to be exempted from any meaningful participation in the national process. We don’t want to be “too political,” so we run from that, and are scared into silence.
Also, if we’re going to participate, then we must commit ourselves to some degree of becoming an informed voter. We don’t all have to be political science PhD’s, but I am talking about the basic essentials of becoming an informed person in general. There was a time in our history when Americans were considered among the most educated and aware people or society. Sadly, those days are gone. Mark Bauerlein has written, “A whole generation of youth are being dumbed down by their aversion to reading anything of substance, and their addiction to digital ‘crap’ via social media.” We’ve witnessed the “dumbing down” of the American educational system and curriculum, which has been going on for decades, with the result being theinstitutionalizing of the mediocre. You may not know the name Jonathan Gruber. He is an economics professor at MIT; more importantly, he was one of the “go-to guys” for the passage of Obamacare/AHCA. He commented publically on a number of occasions about “the stupidity of the American voter,” and how that was critical to the process of getting that law passed. He said this: “lack of transparency gives huge political advantage.” I wonder if that is why the Bible over and over warns us, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about this.” You can be sure this applies to every area of life without exception.
Real participation looks like this: who and what are best for our country? I’m not lobbying for acceptance of the mindset that the solution to everything is to have a Christian in the White House. Realistically, religious beliefs don’t tell us much about someone’s ability to be president or a member of Congress. Didn’t we try that already with Jimmy Carter? Do I think that pursuing Christ is a good attribute to have? Of course. But, just as I don’t need to know that my pilot or surgeon is a Christian, it does matter that they’re good at what they’re doing. I come from the school of character and competency.
THE NEED TO RELY ON PRAYER
One of the greatest agents of change at the church’s disposal is always prayer. Peter’s brief time in prison changed because of a praying church, “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5) There was Paul’s testimony “You also helping together by pray for us.”
When it comes to the church’s role in civil government the emphasis is not on political party but on the pattern and principles of prayer for societal flourishing.
The premier passage is 1 Timothy 2:1-5.
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”
We are commanded: “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority...”
That’s fine and wonderful if it is a leader we’re happy with, but it can be like a bone stuck in our throats if it is someone who opposes all that we love and hold dear. Imagine the first century church, living under the iron fist of Rome, being told to pray for their leaders as a matter of priority!? So, we often end up ignoring it, or just going through the motions: “God, bless our President.”
Surely, there is a better way. Yes, there really is, and it is found in the context of what praying here calls for and the results targeted. We must keep the what and the why of prayer always before us in the arena of civil government. I will give you a hint: if we’re to pray with these guidelines, then they should also be the guidelines for political involvement and voting, etc. So, here we go: “PRAY THIS WAY FOR KINGS AND ALL WHO ARE IN AUTHORITY.”
1. “SO THAT WE CAN LIVE PEACEFUL AND QUIET LIVES.” The importance of social rest and harmony. A President’s role is not to have everyone like him, but to stand up for the factors that go into creating and keeping social harmony, “a more perfect union.” Whether it’s class envy, and the demonizing of the wealthy; or the disruption caused by #blacklivesmatter, we’re witnessing more of a splintering than a strengthening. The unseen cost is that true prosperity is the fruit of social trust. The Hebrew word and greeting shalom is not just a little bit of peace. The word means complete peace, feeling of contentment, wholeness, well-being, with harmony.
2. “MARKED BY GODLINESS AND DIGNITY.” Where integrity and good character is celebrated. This is a New Testament parallel to “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Sadly, for many election cycles now, since the time of Bill Clinton, we’ve heard the mantra that “character does not count” or what a man does in his private life is of no consequence to his professional function. We’ve paid a steep price as a society for that false political narrative. Our prayers should aim to counteract that, and elevate the quality of integrity. Max Lucado wrote: “Decency matters to you. We take note of the person who pays their debts. We appreciate the physician who takes time to listen. When the husband honors his wedding vows, when the teacher makes time for the struggling student, when the employee refuses to gossip about her co-worker, when the losing team congratulates the winning team, we can characterize their behavior with the word decent.” Should we not expect this from someone who would be the face of America?
3. “THIS IS GOOD AND PLEASES GOD OUR SAVIOR, WHO WANTS EVERYONE TO BE SAVED AND TO UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH.” Can we gather from this that the ultimate reason for prayer is to create a climate for evangelism. Why? Because God wants everyone to be saved. This is divine design because “there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity–the man Christ Jesus.” As we have witnessed on numerous and well-publicized occasions, religious liberty is a fine thing, so long as it is restricted to “pews, homes, and hearts”—far from public consequence. Our prayers for those in authority will always have that evangelistic edge to them: to create an arena, both public and private, for the Gospel.
When our prayers for our leaders and governments are seasoned with this understanding and context, they become not only palatable, but powerful! It reminds me of the well-used story of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. He was purportedly asked if God was on his side. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side,” said the President, “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
I feel like people could think I’m a bit of a sensationalist and manipulating the truth. Why? Because it seems every election cycle I say, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.” Then, another four years have gone by, and I’m saying, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.” I’m not being disingenuous, but as I survey the landscape of our nation and try to discern how the fabric of our land is holding up, I feel the weight of the election, and I urge our people to participate and to pray.
Well, here we are, not getting any younger, and another election is upon us. I feel the same and perhaps greater sense of urgency: “This is the most important election in my lifetime.” I am concerned, but also I am so glad I can look to God who is always sovereign. I’m going to participate and I’m going to pray, but I’m also going to lay my head at night on my pillow knowing, “For through him [Jesus] God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.”