Monday, October 27, 2008

Acting Like a Christian in an Election Year, part 3

There is a new letter floating through the vast cosmos of the Internet that comes to us from the future. It is written by a Christian leader who tells us what life in USAmerica will be like four years from now if Mr. Obama becomes President. It is a prophecy full of fear and despair. It gives space for Christians to vote for either candidate, but choice is shown to be clear. Vote wrongly and you will incur the consequences of a disastrous choice. 

Here are my thoughts:

1. The most common command in the Bible is "do not fear" (thanks to N. T. Wright for pointing that out). Yet too often we promote fear by warning one another about the obvious error of our electoral decisions. On a national basis we feel we have much to fear, it seems. A vote one way or another will seal the fate of the nation, we are told. But I do not believe that.

I believe that Yahweh is king; that Jesus is Lord. The early church believed that and gave both proclamation and demonstration to that reality in the face of severe persecution. The kingdom of the United States of America is not the kingdom of God. And no President of the US is Lord. 

No matter who wins the election, we are still told, "do not fear." There is much to fear in the world perhaps, but in the shadow of God's wings we need not fear. 

2. Jesus calls us to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5). Why? So that we might be called children of our Father in heaven, he tells us. Yet, in an election year, we seem to think that we have the right to hate. If we decide that our enemy exists in the person of the candidate of the wrong party, then we join in on the hatred. Talk show hosts will help us with this if we let them. The rhetoric of hatred will form us if we give it power. But we are to be formed by the Spirit of God. 

There is a call in our culture--a call for tolerance.  As my friend Craig Hovey points out, tolerance is fine if it keeps us from hatred. But tolerance is insufficient if it keeps us from love. I can tolerate you and not care whether you live or die. But if I love you everything is changed. Tolerance is not our high-water mark and hatred is not our arena.

3. Being a Republican or a Democrat has little to do with being a follower of Jesus. Both parties have a lot to do with the pursuit of power and revel in their own atmospheres of jackassery. The letter I mentioned earlier seems to suggest that the Republican way is the only right way (even though the author denounced Mr. McCain during the primaries. No partisan bias there, of course). Equating our political preferences with our followership of Jesus is a big mistake.

I can find things I agree with within both parties and also things that horrify and disgust me. Let me be honest: I hate abortion and pre-emptive military strikes. Greed is always bad whether regulated or unregulated. Either way, Greed fills the pockets of the powerful, both Republican and Democrat. What I'm saying is that we all have preferences and convictions. But they need to be more informed by the Spirit of God than by the spirit of '76. Our hearts need to be formed by the hand of God rather than by the manipulations of the media and political vomiting. 

Of the three Abrahamic religions, only two have geographic specificity. Judaism faces the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. The devout pray through the wailing wall toward the Temple mount. Islam revers Mecca, and the faithful pray toward that exclusive city. But Christians lack such specificity. We are, in effect, a people without a country. We are a people who live in exile no matter where we are on planet earth. We always live within a dominant culture, even in the USA. Don't get me wrong: This is my country and I'm glad I'm here. But the call to live my life in the economy of the kingdom of God is different and higher than the call to be a faithful citizen of the USA. 

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