In what has been one of the most bizarre, sleaziest election season, it goes without saying that the choice for Bible adhering, gospel-centered Christians has been quite challenging. Typically motivated by issues of life and religious freedom, it makes perfect sense to me that there is a natural compatibility of Christians towards conservatism and are either fully entrenched in the GOP or as independents, like myself, lean right and want to uphold these values. We who naturally gravitate towards the GOP naturally want to ensure that one who supports our values will occupy the highest seat of the nation. Not that the executive branch acts alone (why we have a checks and balance system), but there is a certain orientation towards issues that we typically expect.
These concerns are quite legitimate. We care about the rights of the unborn. And we care about the liberties granted us under the founding principles of this nation, that are to ensure freedom of worship. And so the typical response at elections is who will align with these values.
But there’s just one problem. The candidate of choice in 2016 has created an ethical dilemma.
Nonetheless, someone has to occupy the Oval Office. And so many evangelicals have convinced themselves that the issues of religious freedom, right to life and same-sex marriage are far too important to concede to the likes of Hillary Clinton. After all, she would only continue the legacy of Obama with it’s same-sex agenda, government coercion whose ideology goes directly against the grain of the principles upon which America was founded.
And so as conservative evangelicals clamor to justify a vote for Trump, despite the fact that his character maligns every ounce of morality that Christianity represents, the argument goes – but our religious freedom, the Supreme Court, traditional values. We need to live as Christians, after all. And living as Christians in this great nation means we should not have to bow to the heathen regime of Alinky-esque rulers who strive to squash our position.
It’s like this is the most important thing.
It reminds of the time that Peter and company asked for the same thing. Ok, so ancient Rome was not quite like American exceptionalism, but it was a heathen, pagan rule after all. Israel as a theocracy didn’t have a three branch government of the executive, legislative and judicial offices in which prophets, priests, and kings were elected. But it did at one time possess a religious freedom, if you will, in which these three God ordained offices flourished in a land granted by God for the purpose of living as God’s chosen people so long as they worshiped the one true God, kept him front and center and obeyed his commands. Israel was to be a light to the nations.
But Israel lost that right. They weren’t obedient. They were led astray by idols and failed to honor the Lord as evil kings did was right in their own eyes and led people astray. God imposed judgement. They went into exile, lost their “religious freedom” and now had to bow to the very kind of people that God’s law said were beneath them–Gentile rulers who couldn’t give a rip about Yahweh, his people or his commands.
It makes sense then, that after Jesus’ devoted disciples had walked with him, accepted him as the promised Messiah, saw him die an excruciating death as the final sacrificial lamb, and witnessed him most miraculously rose from the dead that they would ask this one question of him:
Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)
Let’s be clear of what they were really asking. They wanted to know if they had to continue to bow to this pagan rule and their shameless hatred of Israel as they occupied the land that God had once granted. They wanted to know if they could really live as his people as he designed them to live, according to the promises they knew at that time based on them being his people, and he being their God. In short, they were asking for their religious freedom. They were asking for their rights.
Now you would think that Jesus’ response would be in line with what we hear today about the promises he granted and the purpose of overturning wicked governments so that his kin folk could be finally free of these shackles. Make Israel great again! In light of this expectation, Jesus tells them something pretty mind boggling.
It is not the time for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)
Well, that’s probably weren’t what they were expecting. They wanted power to relive the freedom that Israel had once known. Instead, they were given a mandate, in spite of whatever world regime reigned. They were told that no matter what king was in power, no matter what citizenship rights were threatened, their chief concern was to be a witness to the kingship of Christ.
To be sure, that witness had a cost, especially in light of the treacherous Roman rule that would pick them apart. But not before the glorious message of true freedom came, that spread as mandated by the Lord, from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. It was an effort that focused on the source of true power, the Holy Spirit testifying to the work of the Son by the will of the Father, enabling a marginalized people to speak of that which no corrupt government could contain. And in spite of what might seem like a loss of religious freedom, the church, the true Israel of God, grew. That was after all, the main purpose.
As I consider the testimony of the early church ensconced in Scripture and the annuls from early church Fathers, I’m trying really hard to imagine a scenario in which Jesus’ mandates means that our chief priority is to be with American freedoms and overturning the wicked rule of the Democratic party.
And I’m especially perplexed at the insistence this priority should come by persistent defense of a narcissistic, vile and vulgar man, unfit for office, demonstrating no genuine love for Christ or his church, full of insults and exhibiting sexually predatory behavior for the sake of that which Christ said is not our chief concern.
Let’s be clear. “You shall be my witnesses” applies to us here today. It means taking Jesus’ words serious that loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and neighbor as ourselves, means we face risk of losing worldly power for the sake of a greater gain. As Stephen Altrogge writes here in this poignant essay that echoes my position well, Why I’m Willing to Waste My Vote, we lose something by trying to gain the world.
I’m not willing to trade my prophetic witness to give my party political power, even if that power will be used for good. As crucially important as Supreme Court justices are, sacrificing the power of speaking prophetically for the power of the courts is a terrible trade.
Christians, we cannot trade our prophetic witness for our political gain. Peter tried and failed. He was instead given a higher priority. We have something more at stake than defeating Hillary Clinton, defeating the very gospel that brings us freedom.