Through a combination of the Election season and my unshakable impulse to check Facebook every time I lose focus on what I'm doing right now, I have learned so much more about the political leanings of my friends that I care to find out. I've discovered that I have at least one Christian friend in every major political category: Apathetic (gotta start with that one, right?), moderate, left-leaning, right-leaning, God is going to abandon America if Obama doesn't win, and God is going to straight up Sodom-and-Gomorrah everything from sea to shining sea if Romney doesn't win.
I fall into one of the categories that I listed above, but what bothers me most during politics time is not how other people can be a Christian and have a different political view, but how exclusively and explicitly some Christians have connected their religious hopes with their political alignment. This blog has written about how our politics have revealed that our eschatological hope isn't ultimately in Jesus. I should back up and define eschatological hope: When you think about the future, and whether things in our world are going to end well or poorly, on whom or what does it all hang? When you think about the defeat of evil, the overcoming of sin, the end to poverty, the eradication of disease... how are we going to get there and who is going to get us there? However you answer, that is your eschatological hope.
I fear that in America we may have so religiously charged our politics that we've accidentally gone overboard in our heads and made the next president our savior or made our political party the instrument through which God is going to redeem the world. I can think of a couple of reasons why this may be and they both have to do with a poor understanding of how God is actually working to accomplish those things:
Weak Missiology: The entire message of the Bible is the story of God's mission to save his people and redeem his creation. Whether you're a Christian or not, chances are if you're reading this, then you are a socially-aware, civic-minded, loving, and compassionate person who is genuinely concerned about the state of your country, the welfare of its people, the economic climate, and the deteriorating state of international relations. I want to say that in an indirect, but very real way, God is concerned about those things too and he is much more capable of bringing about a resolution. I say indirect because I don't think that God's interests are limited to the affairs of the U.S. So I'm not a fundamentalist crazy; I don't think that God loves America to the exclusion of all other nations, but God loves his world and seeks to save it. It's just that God recognizes that the REAL issue behind every other issue is actually human sin, and that's what he's dealing with.
If we understood that God has been on mission through human history to save us, and he's doing that through Jesus Christ, who has died to sin and overcome it with his resurrection, then would our hopes be devastatingly crushed or overwhelmingly lifted depending on who our next president is?
Weak Ecclesiology: So God is on mission to save the world to him by dealing with sin through Jesus. How does that affect the welfare of our nation, and how does that actually play out to the benefit of our country. The answer to that is through the church.
In 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter is writing to Christians who are scattered across the Roman Empire and being persecuted for their beliefs. Throughout the letter, he encourages them by reminding them of who they are, "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's possession" (1 Pet 2.9), a people who have been brought together and given significance through God's work of mercy in Christ. And he also encourages them by reminding them of their purpose in the world. "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (2.11-12)
Peter says that our job right now is to live such stellar lives, lives that bring good, peace, and prosperity to our neighbors and to our countries, that glory is given to God. We may be citizens of another kingdom, but being good citizens of God's kingdom makes us stellar citizens of whichever one we are a part of in this world. We're called to seek the peace and prosperity of the country that we are a part of today, pray to God on its behalf, and love those who are there.
Contra Bono, America isn't God's country. Neither is present-day national Israel, Ireland, or any physical piece of land in the world. That means that the way that God's kingdom is going to grow won't be from a Christian moving into the White House; it is ultimately through the people of God reaching out in love, mercy, and with the Word of life in every city, nation and world. A Christian doesn't need to be living in White House for God to be glorified in the U.S. The church can impact the nation from the margins of society.
This doesn't mean that we shouldn't vote or take part in the government process. Just a few verse later, Peter urges the Christians to live as God's slaves, but also honor the emperor (1 Pet 2.16-17). Citizenship on earth and in the kingdom isn't an either-or affair. We're to honor those that God has put in authority and submit to them (Rom 13) regardless of their political affiliation, and we're to use our vote selflessly and in a way that most brings honor to God and good to our neighbor.
At the end of the day, whoever is elected president is still a sinful human being; he isn't our savior. He didn't conquer evil and death. He won't rule with perfect justice and righteousness and love. But that's okay because our ultimate hope isn't in him. It's in Christ.