“I’m worried for our nation,” a senior church member recently told me. Knowing her to be a quiet person, I was concerned to see her upset. “I’ve never seen our country like this, and I just think we need to be committing ourselves to prayer.” Then she paused, and said, “I just don’t know what to do.”
I confess I also don’t know “what to do.” I have mixed emotions on the eve of what is unarguably the most pathetic national election in our nation’s history. I have no easy answers. My heart stirs with a strange blend of sadness and hope.
Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” I am one of those who groans with sadness today. I’m sad for our country’s collective refusal to confront our long history of racism, militarism, and greed. I’m sad that we cannot seem to work together to promote the common good. I’m sad that the benefits of the only bipartisan agreements our representatives ever reach never seem to reach most people. I’m sad that we continue to indulge so many robber barons, while nearly half the country lives in or close to the poverty line. I’m sad that we are all finding out the hard way that even in a democracy we are nevertheless frighteningly susceptible to fascism and totalitarianism. I am sad that a country full of so much beauty, energy, and passion to do the right thing continues to wallow in political dysfunction. And I am sad because I, too, am part of the dysfunction.
But my heart also stirs with hope. I am hopeful when I remember that Jesus upbraided his disciples for getting too caught up in elections and appointing cabinet members. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there’s a version of a story in which certain disciples argue over who’s the greatest among them. And in each of these Gospels, this incident is followed by Jesus warning his disciples. In Luke, he says, “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those exercising authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you…” (Lk. 22:25-26a). It is this not so with you that sustains me with hope today.
To be sure, we’ve all been inundated by propaganda from political parties making promises of benefaction. We’ve now been enduring this election cycle for two-and-a-half years. We’ve given our nation’s electoral politics free rent in our head for too long. We can’t turn on a television, radio, or smartphone, drive down a neighborhood street, or even stand beside a water cooler without our attention being diverted to electoral politics.
This is intentional on the part of the powers and principalities, a systematic form of bullying on a grand scale, and a means of diverting our attention away from the indispensable political work of church and community building. In these ways our rulers do “lord it over us, calling themselves benefactors.” Perhaps John Prine was right all along to sing,
Blow up your T.V., throw away your paper. Go to the country, build you a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches. Try an’ find Jesus on your own.
To be sure, as Christians, we’re called to “pay respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Rom. 13:7), which Paul says in the context of governing authorities. We may respect and honor our representatives by giving them our vote, inasmuch as voting enables a peaceful transfer of power between governing officials. But we should only engage whatever political system we’re part of as Christians, which means seeking the peace of the city, and participating in Jesus’ mission to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the naked, and those in prison.
What really gives me hope is the truth that Christians have more important things to do than engage in the pathological frenzy of any political system. As followers of Jesus, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). The kingdom we’re inheriting is “not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).
So, though I will engage in the politics of voting tomorrow, Nov. 8, I will do so only light of the politics of the Lord’s Supper I shared with my congregation on All Saints Day, Nov. 6. This is my hope for every Christian: that our passion for the Body of Christ, the epicenter of God’s politics, supersedes and overrides the world’s passion for statecraft. The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over us. But at the Lord’s Table, we are consumed, not by political propaganda, but by Christ’s own flesh and blood. There we learn anew what it means to be one with God and neighbor, what it means to celebrate God’s abundance, what it means to love our enemies, and what it means for broken bodies to be made whole again.