This is not easy, but it is worth discussing. Is it possible to select an American politician that will live up to the expectations of the Gospel, or is it a fool’s errand? What do you think?
Political discussion is generally toxic, so there is an expectation here to keep a respectful tone. The United States of America is not biblical Israel and Christians are not sent out to form governments. There is, in fact, a government already in existence to which we owe allegiance. We have a king who has ascended into heaven and, according to Peter’s testimony, is seated on the throne of David.
“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption (Acts 2:30-31 ESV).
Peter observed in his Pentecost sermon, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). The Nicene Creed reminds us that he “sitteth at the right hand of the Father.” Because Christ came into the world, our status has changed.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)
Bur we are also citizens of the United States, dual citizens. You can see that there is a potential conflict and working it out is not easy. How is one both a good citizen of Heaven and America at the same time? Sometimes, because of the country’s crass materialism and selfishness, the distinction is crystal clear. Sometimes the cultural values (or lack thereof) are so completely out of balance that the line of demarkation is apparent. The situation can be frustrating, and well-meaning people may look for a political alternative. They are thinking that human government can assist the church.
In fact, Christians are obligated to be heard and to take part in politics and government. The problem with this is that politics is, at its core, the art of compromise. God’s truth can never be subject to political horse trading. The other thing is that, even if you elect a government that is receptive to your needs, things change and you might have to deal with “a new king” (Ex. 1:8). Paul is not stuck in the current age for solutions to mankind’s malfunction, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:20-21).
Let’s give our candidates the benefit of the doubt and presume that American politicians actually believe in some code of morality and, perhaps, even a higher power. Running for office means having a message, managing the message, and getting people to agree with the message. Jesus’ message is the Gospel. It is about our personal salvation, the church as his living body in the world, and the reclaiming of every aspect of creation for God’s glory. Christians believe that, “there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:4-6). Not much wiggle room there.
It is difficult to imagine a devout Christian being President of the United States. Here is something from Moses’ valedictory address that deals with the matter of national leadership. Let’s understand here that the United States is not biblical Israel and our Presidents are not kings. The Old Testament writers give us insight into God’s character and a hazy view of what a good society might look like. Moses talks about the earthly king that will someday rule over the nation.
“When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deut 17:14-20)
There is a lot here, so these are just a few high points. First, God respects human government and grants permission for man to make some choices, but he reserves the selection of king to himself. Horses are associated with war and power, two things that may cause great hardship. God know that we are made of dirt and our tendencies are typically toward the negative. If a ruler has many female companions, he acquires a number of competing interests. The provision against many wives can be presumed to forbid foreign entanglements, since treaties often involved marriages. God demands loyalty and supremacy. When one rules over others, he is not on his own to do his own will, but he is to be guided by divine law. That is so much the case that the monarch is to write down the laws in his own hand and read it every day. God sees that we are always tempted to pride and ambition. All of these negative traits are forbidden to the Christian leader, especially the President of the United States.
Here is a suggestion. Could it be that a lot of the Christian political activists have made the same error as the “liberation theology” proponents back in the 70s? If you give up on the life-changing power of the Gospel, religion often devolves into another social service agency. Now, don’t misunderstand. Christians do plenty of socially responsible good works and participate in government, but the Good News of Jesus Christ lives in a realm by itself and is not contaminated with human political ambitions. Christians must hold the government accountable. That can be difficult when the government is a bunch of world affirming, backscratching, compromising, supposed fellow-believers.
But I could be wrong. What say you?