Let me tell you a story. It is early in 2013, and I am sitting in my elective business class at the University of Northwestern. The discussion somehow turns to politics, and it is escalating. One of my believing classmates begins berating liberals for one reason or another and snickers, “That’s why we didn’t vote for Barack Obama, am I right?” Another of my believing classmates promptly replies, “Actually, I voted for Barack Obama.”
Rewind. I had just watched one of the last debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama before the 2012 Presidential election. I am debriefing with a friend, and while discussing one of Obama’s proposed policies, I comment that it seems unwise. I figure my statement will meet unequivocal affirmation, but instead, again: “Actually, I’m going to vote for Barack Obama.”
As I have grown up, the evangelical culture has strongly implied that Christians are Republicans, so college blew my mind because there, I met Christian Democrats. That a person could be both a Christian and a Democrat was suddenly a thought-category in my brain. I started to surmise that “Christian equals Republican” was a facet of my worldview that needed tweaking.
I have voted conservatively in every election since I turned eighteen, largely because I agree with fiscal conservatism over liberal economic philosophies. That said, I have made friends who are Christian Democrats since college, and learned so much that flatly contradicts what I grew up believing. I’ve learned that Democrats care about people, even as I might challenge their ideas. I’ve learned that Democrats seek to engage real-world problems, even if I often disagree with the solutions they offer. I’ve learned that Democrats want to make life better for every American, even though I could argue that their efforts don’t always do just that.
Fast-forward to the year 2016. The Presidential race is impassioned. Both major political parties have stationed deeply-disliked candidates at their respective helms, and Americans are puzzling over what to do. Barack Obama is a terrible human being, conservatives say, and Hillary Clinton is an Obamabeast on steroids who wants to pulverize us, they say. Oh, and thank God that at least Donald Trump isn’t either of those people. Maybe he will surround himself with enough helpers who are not also morally reprehensible, who can right this ship with him, yes? Amidst this fog, I consider what Jesus has to say about American politics.
We have traveled back in time to the Judaean desert just prior to Jesus’ earthly ministry. He is here, too, and he will soon be tempted by the devil three times. For his final attempt, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promises that they will belong to him if he would do but one thing: worship Satan. Jesus will not. He did not come to earth seeking power, though the intense political atmosphere of the day seems to need a good shaking up.
In fact, the entire region is convinced that Jesus has come to overthrow the Roman empire, which explains the enthusiasm at the scene of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After his arrival, though, Jesus flips the tables in Herod’s Temple and throws several merchants out into the courtyard, tells a handful of obscure parables to gathered crowds in the streets about his heavenly kingdom on earth, and swiftly loses popularity.
The story brings us to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is captured here by the secular government. Once back at the court, the Roman governor asks Jesus what he is charged with, and Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
The Messiah and his disciples could have forced good things to happen in those days, but Jesus had set his gaze toward advancing his kingdom on earth, and he understood that exercising his power selfishly would subvert that mission. Jesus was against coercing morality through politics because if that were possible, there would be no need for the cross, and the glory would belong to men, not to God.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why many Christians are troubled by President Trump’s rise to power.
Throughout the Obama’s tenure in the White House, I did not feel free among my fellow conservatives to affirm that even though I never voted for Barack and disagreed with so much of what he did in office, he and Michelle are kind and classy people. Hillary Clinton did not win my trust or my vote, but that’s because power can corrupt human beings, not because she’s a Democrat. And you know what? Power can corrupt President Trump, too. But yet, it is sometimes easier to pick a side and then pass judgment on the opposition – for me, anyway.
Oh, church, let us not set our hope in political victories won because of a President who does not honor our God. How tragic it would be if the name of Jesus was tarnished in the eyes of our neighbors because American Christianity has tied itself to a broken ideology! It is important to pray and hope for President Trump’s success, but we must bear in mind also that this world is not our true home. Christians have lost the culture war, but Jesus never told us to fight a culture war in the first place. He only said that although the world will hate us for his namesake, we still ought to show them love without fear. As we do that, the power of Jesus himself will be on display through his Holy Spirit at work within each one of us.
So, let us cling to our confession of Christ, resting in his victory on our behalf and living as though to him belongs the only power we need.