I’m 47 years old, and I’ve never experienced an election cycle like this one. We might be at an inexplicably strange point in history. How does one explain where our county is and how we got here?
To be totally honest, though, I’m not overly concerned about who will be the 45th president of the United States. My main concern is what this election reveals about the state of U.S. Christianity. The lasting legacy of this election might be a deeply damaged Christian witness—which has already suffered plenty in recent decades.
The behavior of Christians is a far greater threat to the church than the election itself. Prominent Christian pastors and leaders publicly distance themselves from various candidates and urge followers to do the same. Others use their pastoral clout to vouch for a candidate. Some make it clear that true believers must vote one way or another.
In my opinion, these Christians are harming the church in order to (supposedly) save their country. Are you willing to “win” the election in exchange for hastening the U.S. church’s demise? I’m afraid that many are thinking so myopically that they’re deaf to what I’m going to say. But for those willing to listen, here are five reasons why you should stop worrying about who wins the 2016 presidential election:
1. The vast majority of Christians live in countries with undemocratic or poorly functioning governments. Do you remember when you went to school and everyone brought a packed lunch from home? And can you remember the kid who used to cry when he’d discover that mommy forgot to cut the crust off the bread? Unless you were that kid, you probably had little sympathy for that child. You likely found that child to be annoyingly out of touch.
Well guess what? If you as a Christian are loudly worrying about the election, you’re now the kid crying over crust on your bread. Christians from the rest of the world look at you as a spoiled brat. While you complain about the possibility of having a president named Trump or Clinton, Christians in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan are just trying to find ways to stay alive. Christians in Haiti would love ANY functioning government. Take a moment and try to fathom the corruption in governments across Latin American and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet more Christians are in those parts of the world than in the U.S. You act as if it’s your Christian “right” to have a president you like, but most Christians around the world never have that option. Please take a moment and think again about “how bad” you have it.
2. Many Christians are revealing themselves to be Americans first and Christians second (or even third). “For our citizenship is in heaven,” writes the apostle Paul. “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Too many Christians choose to ignore these passages. They act as if they are Republicans first, or even a certain kind of Republican, followed by American and then finally Christian. This line of thinking goes against the message of Jesus and the New Testament church. Our allegiance is first and foremost to Jesus Christ, and this ties us to a worldwide family of faith that takes precedence over all other priorities. Is Jesus your first love? Do you remember your first love? If so, it’s time to act accordingly.
3. Christendom is supposedly over anyway. The last few decades have seen the final unraveling of Christendom’s last vestiges. Constantine’s fateful decision to take up the sign of Christ at the Battle of Milvian Bridge began the 1,500-year marriage of Christianity and national governments, starting with the Roman and Byzantine empires and trickling all the way down to the good old USA (despite our official separation of church and state). We’ve heard for years that we live in a post-something world: post-modern, post-Western, post-Christian, etc. Statistics point out the decline of Christianity in Western countries along with the rise in nations to the global South and East. The geographical center of Christianity used to be somewhere on the Iberian Peninsula (Europe). Today, it’s in Africa.
But if Christendom is really over, why are so many well-educated, thinking Christians deeply upset about whether the next president is a “God-fearing” person? They may have theoretically relinquished their Christendom mentality, but they still demand the right to control their country. It’s high-brow hypocrisy.
4. You can and should vote your conscience. But then let it go. The rights of all citizens allow you to vote. If you as a Christian have an opinion about who should be the next president, then vote for that person. But if your choice doesn’t win, you don’t have the right to act like an aggrieved individual for the next 4 or 8 years. Paul teaches us to pray for our leaders, regardless of their moral, religious, or political bent. It’s beside the point. They are your leaders. You aren’t to worship them, but you are to honor them by praying for them.
5. Poison has to come out in order for healing to start. For discerning Christians, this isn’t the time for panic. It’s not time to build your bunker or move to Canada. It’s time to be the church. This election is finally providing the church with an opportunity to do what the church does best.
The American church has long been compromised by syncretism and idolatry. We’ve given too many other powers equal footing with God. This election is bringing all that and more to the surface. It’s time for bold church leaders to bring people together, talk and listen, and then build experiences and memories that can shape Christians in the right ways. Simply put, it’s time for the church to be the church. And there’s no better time than this crazy election season.
Header image by Gage Skidmore. Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Taken February 10, 2011. Retrieved from flickr.com. Some rights reserved.
Jason Locke is the preaching minister for the College Church of Christ in Fresno, California. He has been in full-time ministry since 1994, serving first as a church-planter in Prague, Czech Republic, and later as a university pastor at West Virginia University. Jason has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Tennessee Technological University and has advanced degrees from Abilene Christian University, including an MDiv and DMin. Jason has been married to Julie since 1992. They have two sons, Jericho and Jacob.