Over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of attention paid to the US president and his fitness for the office that he was elected to hold. I listened to quite a lot of the impeachment debate, which is truly poorly named as debate wasn’t high on anyone’s agenda. I do suppose that it would take the shine off if they had called it the … Get Your Shots In Early for 2020 Fandango … but that is really what it served as. Then came the now famous editorial from Mark Galli of Christianity Today which was released on December 19th. I confess that I read it through tears. Some of my tears were based on how brave and thoughtful I found the piece to be. If I am honest, it described a lot of my tensions as an exhausted Evangelical with no political home. Some of the tears were tears of dread because I knew, or at least thought I knew, what the backlash from that article was going to be. It turns out, I had no idea. It was significantly worse than I thought possible. Christianity Today has since written a response piece, calling for thoughtful dialogue and debate in the Evangelical community on this topic. The setting up of camps and wires and trenches thus far have been far from thoughtful. In fact, it has been deeply troubling.
I know that some of you have struggled to read past the bit where I called Galli’s editorial brave. You disagree. I get it. I have had lots of these conversations over the last week, and while some of them have been gospel-rich calls for us all to lean deeper in to the grace and love of Jesus Christ, most of them have been polarizing and only served to widen already perilous gaps of understanding and mutual care. I try to learn from every interaction, but some of them are a little frightening.
I am an exhausted Evangelical, and I don’t think I am alone. I am not prepared to leave the fold of Evangelicalism, because rightly defined it is a camp to which I belong based on creedal beliefs. That is how the group was always defined. It had more to do with doctrine than it did to do with politics. It is morphing into a hot-button describe all term for a broad political block that I can’t be part of, but my beliefs are Evangelical in nature, and my tribe is with the people who adhere to those beliefs regardless of their political convictions.
So what do I do with my exhaustion? I am tempted to bail on the conversation, to plead an apolitical position, but that is untrue and largely unhelpful. I sat down yesterday and wrote down some political possibilities for my exhausted soul to return to. These are not new or particularly profound. I am not a political scientist, or a sociologist. I am also not trying to establish some sort of third way of Christian thought, though there are those who are working hard at doing just that. I am a pastor, trying to live out my convictions about the Kingdom of God while walking amongst the kingdoms of this earth. These then are simple possibilities for my simple soul and mind, and I hope to be able to come back to them when I am tempted towards exasperation or agitation, which I am sure will happen in the 2020 news cycle.
1. It is possible to humbly, carefully and thoughtfully critique an elected leader and to still obey Romans 13.
To be subject to a governing authority (as Romans 13 commands us to be) is to not be a belligerent anarchist. It doesn’t automatically make us into monarchists who are unable to critique those who lead us. America was formed out of a rebellion against that very sentiment. Christians need to learn to be wise, gentle, humble and truthful in their critique. What I have seen a lot of in Christian circles is either a position of no critique allowed on the one hand, or slanderous and constant assault on a leader on the other hand. What is surprising is that often it is the same person who does both of those things, just depending on which party happens to have a man in the White House. Let us be thoughtful and humble, but let us speak up when things that do not represent our values are displayed in the lives of our leaders.
2. It is possible to critique the actions and even the policies of one party without declaring your support for another.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently it still does. It breaks every rule of kind debate to caricature the views of someone who disagrees with you as someone who then obviously adheres to another set of values, without them stating that they do. To say that President Trump is not fit for office is not to say that Hilary Clinton is, and to go there is a form of cheap mic-drop debate strategy that ought to be beneath the dignity of Christians. We ought to believe the best about each other and be prepared to wait to hear what the other says before saying it for them. The feverish establishment of massive straw men only serves to make our disagreements significantly more flammable, and I am not sure they need that level of volatility right now. It really does seem fiery enough around here without all the straw.
3. It is possible to be an active citizen and useful Christian in a democracy in more ways than simply casting a vote.
I get it, voting is important. But, and work with me here, this isn’t a God-given right or responsibility in the sense that we make it out to be. Democracy doesn’t get much airtime in the Bible, because it wasn’t a thing, and yet it contains lots of instruction about how to live as active and engaged citizens, even in societies with emperors! I am very grateful that I get the freedom of democratic representation, I really am, but it is not the center point of my Christian duty as a citizen. Neighbor love, acts of mercy, serving the vulnerable, helping the oppressed, taking in the orphan, these are all acts of Christian citizenship that should get as much, if not more attention, than our vote (which is always going to be a compromise at the mercy of political systems) does.
4. It is possible to view those who disagree with you as more than just a collection of political views and associated emotions.
Again, this shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. When we give in to the idolatry of kingdom establishment through political ideology, then anyone who disagrees with our ideology becomes an enemy of our kingdom, even if they are siblings in The Kingdom. I am always amazed when I consider that Jesus chose Matthew the Tax Collector and Simon the Zealot as part of the twelve He would do ministry with. They were political enemies, who in any other circumstance would have hated each other who were forced together in the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. How? By them getting a view of a bigger Kingdom that they could build together that made the building of their own kingdom seem insignificant. This then is a great test for which Kingdom we are placing our hope in. When brothers and sisters in Christ become enemies to us because of their political affiliation, we are building the wrong kingdom.
5. It is possible to love your country and to not worship it and place your hope in it.
A lot of the behavior over the last little while has been justified by a love of nation. I know that I am a newcomer to America and so it could be justifiably said that my opinions on this are unwelcome and unwarranted, but I like America. I like her foundational ideals, I like her quirky independence and I like to live here in the liberty she has established. I know all too well that the the freedoms here have come at a cost and I respect that and I am thankful for that. My hope is not in America though. I want her to flourish, but my citizenship is of another Kingdom, and my allegiances are owed to that Kingdom above all. It is possible to love this land and to accept her limitations and point out her shortcomings. It isn’t just possible, but for the Christian, it is necessary!
I am an exhausted Evangelical, but I am hopeful that God will use this particularly bumpy cultural moment to rouse a sleepy church from its prolonged nap of cultural Christianity, and that what might emerge from this all would be a vibrant Kingdom community of faith prepared to live as sojourners and exiles until we arrive on the shores of the land that we are actually all longing for.