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November 2, 2020Culture

Observing the Presidential Race and Exhorting the Church

Churches must be stronger than political division.
Observing the Presidential Race and Exhorting the Church
Image: Unsplash/Tiffany Tertipes

Tonight is the end of what has been an ugly and vitriolic presidential election.

While American politics have always been ugly even since the inception of our country—just watch Hamilton—an argument certainly could be made that American politics is messier and more toxic than ever before in our lifetimes. However, I believe, at the very least, Americans sense the filth and dirt of American politics more than ever because of the public mediums that display the political discourse.

Over the past couple of months it seems Americans are tuning into political reality shows. Beginning with the political Shark Tank pitches of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and involving weekly episodes of Trump’s No-Masked Rallies and Biden’s Basement, Americans have been viewing political reality shows rather than digesting substantive political policies.

Given that tonight is Election Night, I want to share three observations from this political season as well as three exhortations for the church in America.

Observations from the Presidential Race

Fear Mongering has been Prevalent.

Both parties espoused phrases such as:

  • This election is “a battle for the soul of America”
  • The “future of our democracy is at stake”
  • “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America”
  • “The stakes couldn’t be higher” in this election
  • This is “the most important election” in our history

Basically, both parties espouse that if the other party and candidate wins, America is doomed.

The Other Side Can Do Nothing Right.

Each party has a slobbering love fest with their party ’s candidate. In fact, in the party ’s eyes, their candidate hasn ’t done, nor couldn ’t do, any wrong. All of their actions and political policies are exactly what America has needed and will need in the coming days and years.

However, while each party praises their candidate, they demonize the other side ’s candidate(s). They cannot do anything right. Everything they have done—whether it ’s been the last four years, or last four decades—have been completely wrong and devastating for our country.

While I understand this is American politics, anything positive said about the “other” quickly becomes political fodder for the other side to use in political ads. However, how does this help unify Americans? Can Americans have any hope of unity when presidential candidates, politicians, celebrities, and ordinary Americans demonize, dismiss, and destroy those who disagree with them?

It seems that the underlying reason why the other party and their political figure can do nothing right—from the perspective of each political party—is assumed that they have a completely warped and distorted vision for the country. As a result, there is no common ground, no common or shared vision between the two political parties regarding who America is as a country.

This has to be one of the saddest realities manifested today in American politics.

Politics is Cultish

If someone asked you to list the main characteristics of the national conventions, what would you list? Having watched a few of these conventions, here are the main elements I would note:

  • Invocations
  • Discussion of policies (sometimes referred to as “doctrines”)
  • Politicians as the executioner of the policies
  • Testimonials by celebrities or ordinary people
  • Praise for the messiah-like nominee
  • Attacks toward the other party and nominee as heretics

Taking into account the main elements of each convention—invocations, discussions of policies, politicians who are meant to execute these policies, personal testimonies from individuals of how the policies and politicians enhanced their life, the “righteousness” of the presidential nominee, and attacks towards the other party ’s policies and politicians which are deemed heretical—I can ’t help but conclude that what we are witnessing is almost a religion or, at the very least, a religious experience.

What ’s even more, anyone who doesn ’t hold the party ’s viewpoint, anyone who doesn ’t embrace the “politic” of the political party is cancelled. They are anathema!

Welcome to the age of identity politics—America ’s growing religion.

Exhortations for the Church in America

In light of my observations and the chaotic political season we have been in, and that we should know the results of the election in the next few hours or days, I want to share three brief exhortations with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

First, don’t buy into the fear mongering in American politics.

Yes, both parties and politicians have significantly different visions for America and thus the American people. Depending on who wins the election, almost half of the country will be disappointed, many being downright angry and resentful. Why? Because they will see a person who doesn ’t represent the kind of America they envision.

I do have significant differences with both men at the top of the ticket, and both at the bottom. I’ve written extensively on my concerns about both parties.

Yet, there is a better way. There is a way that does not have to be driven by fear.

Believers, we don ’t buy fear, we live in faith. God is sovereign, not only over the world but over America. Nothing slips past him. Therefore, regardless of who occupies the White House we still have a King that sits high upon his throne.

Second, don’t participate in the demonization of the other people.

I’m all for healthy discussions, dialogues, and debates. I believe these are needed more than ever—but I am skeptical whether or not America (and most American politicians) has the maturity to do so. But the people I know who have the maturity to do so are believers who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

When we are filled with the Spirt of God, we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we are filled with the Spirit of God, we are people who have the capacity and power to love all—including our political counterparts.

Imagine if the church tried to reach people far from God the way many Christians attempt to persuade people to change their minds politically. I don ’t know if there would be another convert to Christianity! Therefore, regardless of your political views or affiliation, let us engage the other with love, humility, and truth—agreeing when possible and graciously pointing out differences when necessary.

Third, don’t get sucked into identity politics and thus the cultish religion of the Democratic or Republican Party.

Please don ’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you shouldn ’t affiliate with a party. I’m just exhorting you to remember where your true allegiance and “religious” fidelity lies. As believers, our allegiance isn ’t to a donkey or elephant, it is to the Lion of the tribe of Judah—the Lamb that was slain for the world. We must, therefore, avoid a syncretizing the Lion with the donkey or the Lion with the elephant. Doing so will always distort the purity of our faith.

Lesslie Newbigin expressed, “The sacralizing of politics, the total identification of a political goal with the wheel of God, always unleashes demonic powers.” (Foolishness to the Greeks, 116).

I tweeted between the conventions:

The Christian ’s role is not uncritical partisanship on some particular team. It is to be like an umpire, calling balls and strikes—to speak prophetically in the moment. That means at #DemConvention, #RepConvention, and in life. When you cannot critique, you ’ve become co-opted.

Now, this comment actually garnered reaction, particularly from some on the right wing. They were saying, often in ALL CAPS, that I was simply softening up people to vote for Joe Biden. (I am guessing that “uncritical partisanship” was OK to them—it ’s not to me.) That’s silly. It’s just true— we must not be uncritical partisan if we are to have a gospel witness with any integrity.

That ’s why I think Tim Keller is exactly right—Christians do not fit well in either party. That is not to say that a Christian ’s hierarchy of values would not impact how they vote. It does for me. However, I think our umpire role is essential to understand our prophetic posture, and at times our prophetic voice.

For example, as I’ve written, I’m deeply concerned about how Democrats have adopted such a radical position on abortion. And, I’m deeply concerned about how this president has dehumanized immigrants. I may (and do) rank their importance and impact differently, but I cannot disregard one so I can support the other.

The reality is, if we start with identifying with our King before our party we will realize Jesus (in us) doesn ’t always toe the party line.

You see, in the Kingdom of God, the church ’s politic doesn ’t come from Trump ’s doctrine nor from the Biden-Sanders manifesto. The church ’s politic comes from King Jesus and the kingdom he inaugurated and promises to, one day, consummate. Therefore, we embody the King and his kingdom in all spheres of life. And yes, the embodiment and enactment of our faith will affect our engagement in politics and policies.

Our Help Comes from the Lord

America is in a chaotic and difficult season. We are still in the middle of a pandemic. We have experienced increased awareness of racial tensions over the past four months. In some cities, protests have turned to violence and riots. And we are entering the final moments in what has been an ugly presidential race. America is afraid, hurting, and divided.

Deep down we, as believers, understand and know that our hope for peace, healing, and unity doesn ’t come from a political party nor politician, but our help comes from the Lord. The psalmist exclaims, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will no slumber” (Ps 121: 1–3).

Church, while our hands may be engaged in American politics, let our eyes be focused on Jesus—the true author and perfecter of our faith—who is in the process of making all things new.

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Observing the Presidential Race and Exhorting the Church