Monday, February 1, 2016

God and Government

Today is the official start of primary season for the presidential election. And as always, there's much talk over the "evangelical vote" - who are the "Christians" voting for? And the Christians themselves are asking this, too.

Who are we voting for this year?

Don't worry; this post is not about to get political. This is still a theology blog. But that's why I bring it up at all: it's an interesting theological question. Or at least, we've made it one.

This question of who we ought to vote for as Christians is interesting because it's not a question that God's people have historically had to ask. Not until the recent few hundred years of man's history, anyway. And it's not something that's dealt with in the Bible at all. Israel was a people, not a nation, for much of their history. They became a nation once they entered the Promised Land, and they made it official with their first king around 1 Samuel 8. 

But Israel didn't elect their king; God anointed him. The people simply crowned the anointed one of God.

Fast forward a little bit to the exile, and Israel doesn't have a king any more; now, she has governors. But she didn't elect her governors; they were appointed by her captors. The kings of Babylon, Assyria, and Persia named Israel's governors. 

Fast forward still further, and Israel doesn't even have governors any more. They're no longer a nation, but once again a people - a people living inside the nation of Rome. And they don't get a say in who Rome's emperor or governors are. 

In fact, the only leaders that God's people ever get to choose for themselves are the leaders in the church. The Old Testament priests were anointed and chosen by God. It's not until we get to the church that we see God's people doing their first electing, and it's not political. There are guidelines for choosing elders and deacons, people to serve in the church. Guidelines for which preachers to listen to, for whom we should allow to speak. And it's easy to say that these are the rules by which we choose all of our leaders.

But that's just not the case. Because we're not electing any elders this year.

We're electing politicians.

And here's the difference, and I'm going to say this even though it will be unpopular with a lot of people: America is a country; she is not a church. 

As Christians, we've somewhere gotten this idea that she ought to be a church. That America ought to be a Christian nation (and historical note? It never was. A good many of Christians helped found America and establish her structure, but she has never been a Christian nation). We think America ought to espouse the values of the church to the world. She ought to be committed to the poor, to the orphans and widows, to justice just as Jesus was. That she ought to speak love and truth and grace and mercy. That America ought to be the place to which the whole world comes in order to seek God and worship freely. 

But that's not America's story. That's not America's job. That's our job. As Christians. Not as Americans. And part of the reason, I think, that it's so tempting for us to pick a president the way we pick an elder is because we want to take that burden off ourselves. We want America to do it for us. We want America to evangelize so that we don't have to. We want America to worship so that we don't have to. We want America to preach so that we don't have to. And maybe we'll even listen. 

But that's not America's story, and it's not the story of God's people, either. God's people have never expected Rome to do their work for them. God's people never trusted Egypt to do their work for them. God's people have always been a people within a people, a system of love and truth and grace and mercy within a system of legislature and governance and rule that has not been their own. God's people have always been charged with being residents of Rome and citizens of Heaven...and they've never had a lot of say in what Rome does.

That's a little bit different for us now, since we have a say in our government. But there's no precedent in Scripture for making our country a church, our politicians a pastorate. What we are told, repeatedly, and what Jesus sets for us as an example, is that we are to be good residents of Rome. 

So what does that mean when we cast our vote? Who are we voting for this year?

We're voting for the candidate who is best fit to lead Rome. We're voting for the candidate that we believe has the best experience, the most qualifications, the strength of lead Rome. We're not picking an elder. We're not voting for the guy (or gal) who somehow turns America into a Christian nation. We're not electing a President who will stand as our representative of God in this world; he will stand only as our representative of America in this world. Just America. 

And then we will stand up as the church. That's our story. 

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