November 2, 2012 by Kaleb Nyquist
This Tuesday is Election Day, and I think nearly all of us are going to breathe a collective sigh of relief no matter who wins what, just knowing that we are going to be done from the flood of endless campaign ads and bumper stickers, not to mention the occasional awkward conversation with a friend who happens to be a little too passionate about their favorite candidate.
When I was in high school, I struggled to make sense of the relationship between the church and secular government. There were so many inconsistencies and hateful things said by the otherwise nice people I saw each Sunday morning, that I nearly lost my faith over these sorts of issues. Thanks be to God for the teachers, pastors and mentors that God put in my life to direct me to a space outside of this dilemma!
In the four points that follow, I am not going to endorse a candidate or a policy or such. Republicans and Democrats and Independents can and should sit in church pews together. Instead, what I want to do is talk about why politics is, and isn’t, important for those of us who are trying to follow Christ.
Politics is normal.
Some of us sometimes get frustrated by politics, wondering why politics have to exist and wishing we could just ignore the whole thing. But one of the most basic things about how God made humans is that we are meant to be in relationship to each other. This is why the Book of Genesis says that God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, and so God created another human being that would equal and complete Adam.
As humans became more numerous and fulfilled the God-given command to “fill the earth,” humans also were hardly as close as the first couple were. But they were still in relationship, still interconnected.
The fact that we are do life together with complete strangers should be incredibly obvious to those of who live in Chicago, where more than ten-thousand people are packed into every square mile. But it also is true for people who live in what seems like the middle of nowhere: perhaps they live on farms that are a dozen miles apart, but they depend on the same river for clean water and food. Or perhaps they are cattle herders who depend on the same pastures for grass to feed their livestock. Either way, the truth should be obvious that humans are interconnected, whether we like it or not.
Here is why politics exists. How are we supposed to do life together with people we might never meet? And how do we keep certain people from intruding in on our personal lives, abusing our interconnectedness in oppressive ways? Whenever we take the time to sit down and vote through the tough issues we share, or someone stands up and asks that we trust him or her with the power to work through the wrinkles of our interconnectedness, politics happens.
This is part of the reason politics is important for Christians. Because we are interconnected, politics is a real thing, a real thing that affects not just our family and friends but our neighbors as well. Since Jesus called us to love our neighbors, we are called to pay attention to the politics that affect our neighbors, in addition to the other, more face-to-face ministries we are involved in.
Politics is messy.
Just because politics exist does not mean politics will always fit in nice and neat boxes. In fact, just as much as politics are a normal thing, conflicts are also a normal thing. Although some conflicts are sadly rooted in human sin and fallenness, many conflicts come from the simple fact that we are interconnected people who have different interests and different perspectives.
Think about the farmers who live a dozen miles apart on the same river. Maybe the farmer who lives upstream starts using a strong pesticide to keep his crops healthy, but the farmer downstream now has to deal with this toxic chemical polluting the water. Or maybe the farmer who lives downstream wants to build a dam to generate electricity, but this ends up flooding the upstream farmer’s fields. Both farmers want good, useful things – healthy crops and a reliable energy source – but their actions have consequences that affect the other.
Being messy is not necessarily a bad thing. If you have ever been to an artist’s studio, you will know those are often some of the messiest places on the planet, but beautiful things come out of them. Likewise, in politics, some of the neatest things come out of messy circumstances.
One good example of good politics is public parks. Think about a park you like to spend time at – it could be a city park like Grant Park, or maybe a national park like Yellowstone if you have ever been lucky enough to travel there. The creation of every park requires getting some legal stamps of approval, creating some system that keep the park clean and safe, making residents nearby happy (parks can be noisy!), and taking care of the natural environment that will be affected. It is a tough process, but in the end, a great space has been created for everyone to enjoy.
If we want to love as Christ loved, the fact that politics is messy means that when we disagree with someone our first reaction should not be to try and prove them wrong. Yes, we should speak our mind, but we should also give others a chance to speak theirs as well. Listening to someone is a way of letting them know that their opinions are valued, which makes them feel valued themselves, which lets them know they are loved. And, perhaps with all our ideas out in the open, a new, third way can be arranged, better than what we could have thought up alone and by ourselves!
Power doesn’t impress God.
Despite all the good work they we trust them to do, sometimes politicians do bone-headed things with the power they are given. Many of us know that Chicago is infamous for it’s official corruption; at the national level President Nixon’s name has been forever disgraced by his involvement in the “Watergate Scandal.”
In the books of Samuel, we can see how unimpressed God was with power in its various forms. Early on, God unenthusiastically grants the people of Israel their wish to have a king. Israel’s first king, Saul, is brazen and rash; his successor David gets entangled with a scandalous affair and an even worse cover-up.
It is important for us not to become star-struck by those with high ranking political titles. At the end of the day, they are human, just like us (although, before we get too cynical, that also means they are created in the image of God, just like us!). We must remember that God loves the homeless woman on the street just as much as God loves the president of the United States of America.
That does not mean God is blind to power. In fact, Jesus tells us that “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Whether as a politician or as a voter, we are called to use our power responsibly.
No, really, power doesn’t impress God.
If Jesus came not to 1st century Palestine but rather 21st century America, I don’t think he’d run for president. Maybe he would humbly be a carpenter again, or perhaps a steelworker.
Before Jesus started his ministry, he spent forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil. One of the boldest offers the devil made was for “all the kingdoms of the world,” if only Jesus would bow down to the devil. Jesus refused this power – the sort of power that he could have used to change the world and probably even bring about a unifying world peace – because he had a different sense of values and priorities.
Jesus, in fact, proclaimed a politics of his own – “the Kingdom of God” – a new politics based not on the reign of power but the reign of love. An upside-down kingdom where the great shall be the least and the least shall be the great.
Two-thirds the way through one of my favorite albums from high school, Nothing is Sound by Switchfoot, is the track Politicians. In it, lead singer Jon Foreman, looking at the broken world around him, claims to pledge his allegiance to a country “without borders, without politicians.” Partway through the song, however, Foreman realizes that although the Kingdom of God has no borders (meaning everyone is welcome to come on in), it does have politicians: us.
There is an election happening soon. Someone will win four years as president, and there will thousands of other elections nationwide as voters place their trust in governors and mayors and senators to take care of messy, real issues of public interconnectedness. But as Christians, while we are called to care about what happens, we are more importantly called to enter into a type of politics based not in power but in love.
This Kingdom of God has no voting age requirement, no divisive partisanship, no attack ads. Through the redemptive work of the cross, we all have been nominated to join in as politicians, to live life together and to do love together. The question now becomes: will we elect ourselves?
Kaleb is the student ministries coordinator for Ravenswood Covenant Church. In his free time, he likes to travel, go for runs, and playing Mario Kart. He also thinks that North Side Youth Collision is the neatest thing since PB&J sandwiches.