Here we go again. It’s convention season. The election is getting closer—it promises to be a squeaker—and the campaigning grows dirtier by the day. Attack ads spew mud and lies like a dredging barge. Citizens (even Christians) cheer their favorite team and anathematize the opposition with all the enthusiasm of British soccer hooligans.
I see a lot of banner waving. A lot of the usual campaign drivel. A lot of tense nerves and name-calling. One thing in short supply, however, even among my fellow believers, is intellectual honesty.
Let’s face it. Politics is a dirty business. As Mark Twain once said, “When you are in politics you are in a wasp’s nest with a short shirt-tail.” It is an arena the devil loves to parade in—a fact that may cause many Christians simply to bow out. Yet Christians are not called to cop out of the human race. We’re called to be loving but active, respectful but vocal.
There are other Christians who strive to gain the ascendancy in every arena, from broadcast media to politics, to grasp the greasy pole and kick their way to the top. Gaining enough power, they believe, will force America to become righteous, from the top down.
But Jesus didn’t live that way. His example was that of the lowliest servant. “He who would be great among you, must become slave of all.”
Christians are called not to control the political arena, but to influence it. Not to grab for power, but to speak truth to power. To call greed greed. Deception deception. To call our elected officials to a greater level of accountability and civility and honesty. And most importantly, to speak up for those who have no voice: the weak and marginalized, the poor and disenfranchised.
What is really at stake in this election, as in every election, is not the worldly ambitions of particular parties, but the question of whether simple values such as truth, community, civility, and caring for one’s neighbor can continue to have a role in American politics, or whether they will be shunted aside by Corporate Greed’s selfish mantra, “I Got Mine.”
I prefer not to live in a country where greed shows nothing but contempt for the weak and poor, where hatred, militarism, racism, and sexism masquerade as patriotism, where arrogance guised as industry beats its breast and claims, “Look what I built!” and shares no credit with the humble worker on whose back all fortunes are made. To call such superciliousness “consistent” with biblical values is a blasphemous delusion.
Don’t think that by saying this I am endorsing any particular candidate or party. I am not. Neither party has a corner on God, righteousness, or biblical values. Neither will solve our country’s major problems, simply because both parties are part of the problem. Our country needs its citizens, and its Christians, to put partisanship aside and work together to confront the big wooly demons of poverty, yawning income inequality, militarism, racial injustice, and the domination of corporate cash over government. These are issues that should unite, not polarize Christians. The fact that they do so often divide us tells a lot about where our priorities lie.
In Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Iolanthe, Private Willis, a sentry guarding the British Parliament, intellectualizes on the profundities of politics and God’s creation:
I often think it‘s comical – Fal, lal, la!
How Nature always does contrive – Fal, lal, la!
That every boy and every gal
That‘s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal, lal, la!
There is no shame in being a liberal or a conservative, unless, of course, we forget that we are Christians first, citizens of heaven, owing obedience primarily and always to the One who called us out of darkness into his glorious light, and owing one another the debt of love. Are you a conservative? Fine. True conservativism conserves what is good, lasting and beneficial to all. Are you a liberal? Great. True liberality is generous in mind and purse. Conservatism gives society stability; liberals give it vision and change.
One error both liberals and conservatives often fall into, however, is to make God over in their own image. Jesus was neither liberal not conservative. Ideally, therefore, Christians should not lock themselves into one camp or the other. (Oh, what mischief comes from our overidentifying ourselves with a single party, as recent history demonstrates!) If we are honest and truly following the teachings of our Lord and his Word, then we will frequently find ourselves on both sides, depending on the issue. As the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople said during a recent visit to the U.S.,
“By calling Christianity revolutionary, and saying it is dedicated to change, we are not siding with Progressives—just as, by conserving it, we are not siding with Conservatives. All political factions believe God is on their side—as Abraham Lincoln said of the Union and Confederacy, ‘Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.’ The only side we take is that of our faith—which today may seem to land us in one political camp, tomorrow another—but in truth we are always and only in one camp, that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Outspokenness regarding such biblical issues as poverty, war, and justice will make you a “freaking liberal” in the eyes of many of your conservative friends. Meanwhile, if you hold a biblical line on abortion and homosexuality, the liberal camp will consider you a right-wing fanatic. We cannot please everyone, nor should we even try. Jesus does not call us to fit into any mold or swallow a whole platform, but to follow him on a very narrow path that often takes us “outside the camp.”
“Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master.”
Shame on us if we jump on any bandwagon, spouting talking points without prayerfully digesting or fact-checking them. And call us foolish if we ever put our trust in men or believe their promises. All politicians lie. So do governments. God’s Word calls us to respect and obey authority (so long as it does not force us to disobey Him), but nowhere does he command us to implicitly trust or believe authority. Let us be honest: both parties ultimately are underwritten by men whose god is money and whose motto is More. There is no fear of God in them.
No single person can effect the changes needed in this country, even if they wanted to (and not many do). Power never cedes anything, except in response to the sustained and outraged protests of people working together. Real and lasting change occurs only with the steady, consistent banding together of people who share similar concerns. These bands of people become movements, and those movements become a roar that cannot be silenced.
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.—Hebrews 13:13,14