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Bonus: The Dangers of Political Polarization for Christians

Friends, times are tough right now in the United States. And weird. And worrying. I am 22 years old. My first election as an adult who could legally vote was the 2016 election. I remember thinking as the election neared, "I can't believe that this is my first election." Most people seemed unhappy about their options and voted along the lines of the "lesser of two evils."

Much of that kind of thinking is the same now. Yet, somehow, 2020 has been far more contentious and divisive than 2016. There are reasons for that, which I've discussed a little in other posts. But for me, one of the worrying things that I have seen are the flood of blog posts and articles coming from prominent evangelicals making claims about who we ought to vote for. On the one hand, many Christians seem to have this strange notion that a vote for Trump is a vote for his entire lifestyle and every sin he has ever committed. It is about as obvious as the nose on my face that Donald Trump is not an upstanding follower of Christ in his character. An election simply isn't a referendum on the character of the candidates. At the same time, I am extremely uncomfortable with the kind of "patriotism" that seems to blindly follow Trump in everything that he says or does. Not only this, but I fail to see why Christians in the United States ought to be patriots. My citizenship is not of this earth because I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20). Finally, those same evangelicals who attack Christians who support Trump often turn a blind eye to the evil of groups like BLM and Antifa. In the name of "racial justice," they advocate for a false gospel and divide Christians based on the color of their skin.

Point is, I'm kind of irritated at everyone right now. And, just in case you're wondering, this post is not about endorsing one or the other viewpoint. As of the writing of this post, election day is just a few days away. In light of so much polarization, even among Christians, I wanted to take some time to write a short post that I hope will give Christians a little bit of perspective.

As I see it, there are three reasons why political polarization is dangerous for Christians right now. It causes us to forget that:

  • God is sovereign in appointing world leaders.

  • Jesus is our King.

  • The gospel is, by nature, political.

First, God is sovereign in appointing world leaders. I know many Christians for whom, it seems, the victory of either candidate represents the end of the world as we know it. Now, don't get me wrong, I am concerned about the results of this election. But in the past few weeks, it's really helped me to think about God's appointment of rulers.

In Romans 13:1, we are told that (NASB):

"Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God."

There is a lot of controversy over Romans 13 in its application to coronavirus mandates, and I won't get into that. The key here is the appointment of rulers by God. The theology is clear; all authority is God's. However, for the sake of governance and justice, God appoints human authorities under Him to rule over us. We see this pattern in the Old Testament. God appointed kings over Israel and even over other nations. Isaiah 45 contains a particularly shocking example of this in Cyrus, who was king of Persia, who is described in the text as God's anointed (v. 1). Cyrus is the only gentile (non-Jewish) king in Scripture called God's anointed. He was also a pagan. Yet God used him for the destruction of other nations and to let the Jews return from the exile in Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4). Romans 13 is written in the context of a period in Roman history dominated by foolish, immoral, unjust rulers (Nero, anyone? Caligula?). Yet we are told, even in the context of emperors like these, to recognize God's sovereignty in appointing rulers over us.

What does all of this mean? I'm not sure who God has in mind for the next four years. And none of this entails that it's pointless to vote. Go out and vote. But recognize that, either for good or ill for this country, the Lord will appoint whom He wishes to appoint. God alone is sovereign over history. This should bring at least some shred of comfort, as we remember to trust not in a politician or polity but in the Lord.

Second, Jesus is our King. Hallelujah! Why is this important? I think that this profound truth of the gospel is important especially as the country is embroiled in political strife. Look, whether we like or dislike whoever is elected into office in a week, let's remember that Jesus is our King. Do we hope and pray for a nation that upholds justice and in which we can live freely and openly as Christians? Absolutely. Will that happen? Maybe; maybe not. But we look forward to the day when Jesus' rule over all the earth will be established in perfect justice. Let's hope for that and proclaim it to others!

Practically, this has helped me to make sense of the injustices perpetrated by the United States, both now and in the past. It has also helped me to make sense of elections conceptually. Every election is a pick of the lesser of two evils. We cannot expect sinners to rule perfectly. That's why we need and look forward to the rule of King Jesus. Use this election and all of this strife to lead you to worship of your one true Lord and King.

Third, the gospel is, by nature, political. This may come as a surprise to some and may even offend. Christians, especially those in prominent positions such as pastors, often want to remain apolitical because they think that making political claims and endorsing candidates distracts from the gospel. I think that the motivation for this is probably good, unless it's fear of what others will think. We don't want to ruin our credibility in someone's eyes just because of an association with Donald Trump. I get that.

At the same time, I think that it is impossible to be an apolitical follower of Christ. Why is that? When we think of politics, we often think in terms of political issues and debates, policies, and parties. Politics becomes a topic somewhat separate from other areas of life, and individuals tend to think about politics to a greater or lesser extent. My family spends very little time thinking about politics, but someone like Ben Shapiro spends a lot of time thinking about politics. This compartmentalization, I think, has led many Christians to think that their devotion of Jesus as Lord is separate from what's going on in Washington D.C., the capitals of their states, and even their local city councils.

Christians in the first century, however, had no choice but to understand the gospel as a political statement. The Greek word for "lord" is kurios. The word "lord" is archaic to say the least; we are centuries removed from its meaning and context. For instance, in medieval Europe, a lord owned a plot of land that he'd rent out to peasants to farm and live on. Peasants would typically live their entire lives on a plot of land without ever owning it. From this historical example, we notice that "lord" included a concept of ownership. Only the lord owned the land. This is true in the first century as well. And who had ownership over the whole kingdom? That would be the emperor. In Rome, the cult of Caesar was a way of uniting polytheistic paganism under one kingdom and ruler. Because of this, everyone kept the peace by burning incense to Caesar and calling him lord, or kurios.

There's just one problem here. Christians believe that there is only one Lord whom they worship, and His name is Jesus Christ. So they refused to burn incense to some dead emperor. Don't you see how important this is? To call Jesus Lord and King is to insinuate that Caesar isn't lord or king, and this exactly how the Roman Empire took it. Many of the persecutions of the early Christians were provoked by this proclamation that there is only one Lord and King and that His name is not Caesar. In fact, even Caesar will be judged by the true Lord and King.

What's the point? It's simple. The proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and King challenges the rule of human authority. It does not appease it. Every ruler, whether Trump or Biden, will be held to account for the way they governed. Did they try to uphold justice or not? Is the gospel being proclaimed in a way that reminds each of these rulers who they ought to serve and to hold them to account for the way that they rule? If not, we've misunderstood what it means to call Jesus Lord and King. If we place our hope in one or the other candidate without coming together to proclaim Christ as a challenge to these human authorities, I think that we've seriously missed the mark. As Christians we should not, in good conscience, seek to be apolitical. The gospel is political, but it's political in a way that is being cheapened by the polarization that the Church is facing today. Let's pray for our leaders, whether we preferred them or not, and hold them to account for how they rule.

Again, we ought to address issues of policy and consider seriously who we should vote for. But I wanted to highlight these three points to provide perspective that, I think, is vital for our understanding of politics from a Christian perspective. My hope is actually that you've been encouraged by this post to think about politics differently and to consider our roles as Christians in a country that is embroiled in civil strife not seen in decades. This election will come and go, and its affects, for better or worse, change nothing about the fact that Jesus has been crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords for all eternity. He "works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His service" (Romans 8:28). Trust in Him.

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