Every four years we have another election upon which the fate of civilization hangs. Should the candidate on the Right win it portends a fascist future. If the Left's candidate proves victorious we can say good bye to Christian values. Both sides court the Christian vote. In the case of the Right conservative evangelicals line up to endorse the one who will save Christian civilization or at least give it four more years. On the Left, liberal and progressive Christians hope for a more inclusive and just government. Christian leaders of all stripes encourage their followers to get out and vote. It is a sin not to vote preaches one on the Right while one on the Left sees our vote as a step against injustice. Who is right? Christians are hopelessly divided, angry and see the other side as the enemy.
Every four years is a time for change. A time for hope. A time to make America great again. A time to fix all the problems and turn us around so we are heading the right way. James Davison Hunter in his book To Change the World observes that the hope Christians place in politics is remarkable. Given the fact that so little ever changes and that nothing in politics is permanent. Yet, we have come to believe that the best way to change things more to our liking is through politics. If our side was in control (in power) then things would be better. Except, that has never worked out so well. In 315AD when Emperor Constantine was in power Christianity became the religion of the empire. But, instead of the way of Christ and His Kingdom being inaugurated, the people of God became united with worldy power, corruption and violence. Our will was done. Hunter concludes, "the rapprochement between piety and power compromised the church's distinctiveness and thus its inimitable witness to the world."
The Church is not the Republican or Democratic party. It is not the party's chaplain or conscience or the party at prayer. Politics has a job to do and Christians can take part in it. But, Christians are the "Other Place", a community where what God wants to be is partly in view. It is a kingdom where Christ is King that is above and encompasses all the other kingdoms of the world. God may use politics to accomplish his will but the Church is where the way of God is on view. The way of God is worship, grace, forgiveness, peace, love and servanthood. Politics, not so much.
Christians are bold to say that worship, preaching the Word, observing the sacraments, praying, and singing will do much more than politics to bear witness to the Kingdom. We are forming disciples of Christ not little Republicans or Democrats. We are trying our best to follow Jesus - taking up the cross - serving and submitting to one another - not strategizing how to get our agenda passed.
The Church doesn't have a social strategy, it is a social strategy. The Church doesn't have a social ethic, it is a social ethic (Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon). Some Christians have criticized that statement as a copout. But, Hauerwas and Willimon have written and spoken often about social justice. What they mean is that the Church is bigger than politics and citizenship in the Kingdom trumps all worldly loyalties.
Are there significant issues of social justice that need to be addressed in this election? Aren't there differences between the political parties? Yes, and Yes, of course there are. We can be humble enough to realize we don't have the answers for our problems. We need to keep learning, talking, thinking and praying, preaching the Word, praising, celebrating the Eucharist because we believe God did Something, is doing Something and will do Something.