Win or lose: Reclaiming the Christian public witness after the electionNovember 1, 2016
November 8th is still a week away, but it’s not too soon to be asking what happens after that? If Trump wins and Clinton loses we throw out much of what we’ve known in the past but if Clinton wins and Trump loses, well, as he said, “You’ll have to wait and see.”
From the one side, some Trump supporters are calling for a “revolution” or nationwide riot if Hillary Clinton wins. And from the other, threats to “move to Canada” if Trump does. If you are a believer in Jesus and recognize that primary citizenship is in another Kingdom, then neither of these is a legitimate post-election option.
The first generation of Christians lived under Roman domination. They did not get a vote in choosing their Roman governing authorities. They did not enjoy the liberties–religious or otherwise–that we take for granted in our participatory democracy with all its checks and balances. There was a ruler, he was the Emperor and he considered himself divine. Opinions to the contrary were not welcome. The system of government was openly unjust. So surely the Christians of the day were called by God to overthrow that mess, right? Wrong. In the book of Romans, the Christians are expressly instructed in how to live in this sort of environment but resist becoming part of it. To be a Christian citizen was to be a revolutionary in an entirely different way.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
And then here’s this!
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Christian men, women and children were about to face intense persecution under the reign of Roman Emperor Nero. They were facing certain death. And yet, God did not call them to take up arms nor move to Canada. They did what they could to protect themselves but they also continued preaching the redemptive good news of Jesus the Christ. Yes, they were jailed, tortured, beat up and killed. But they knew the Conqueror had already overcome the world and He had given them all authority to do all that He had called them to do: make disciples.
Their goal wasn’t bound to a kingdom of this world but to the Kingdom of their God. And the advance of that Kingdom paid no attention to arbitrary national borders or the rise and fall of particular political powers. God made it all, God claimed it all and in Christ, redemption was available to all: Jew, Greek, male, female, slave, free.
And Romans also reminds us that authority is ultimately granted by God. This affects the way we view politics, political systems and political processes. It changes the way we respond when we are wronged. It changes the way we treat our enemies. It changes the way we react when things are unfair or unjust –for ourselves or others.
In the last few weeks, Donald Trump has called the election “rigged” and Democrats have now accused the director of the FBI of putting his thumb on the proverbial scale. It is clear that neither side wants to lose and if they lose, they’ve marked a few scapegoats in advance. But how would Trump in particular respond to a loss?
It is clear that Donald Trump doesn’t like losers—or losing. A new CNN poll found most Americans do not think Donald Trump will be a good nor gracious loser. What would that look like and what would each of us do in response? Or if the situation is reversed?
That is where the real challenge lies, with us. What kind of loser will I be or what kind of loser will you be if your preferred candidate does not prevail? If Trump loses and rejects the results, will you follow in his footsteps and refuse to accept the outcome of the election? What election result scares you the most? After answering that question, ask this one, “as a Christian, how then will I respond?”
This does not mean we retreat from injustice. God cares deeply about justice. But could we hold these two ideas in tension and advocate for just systems and a corruption-free process while also accepting an outcome we do not like? And even may be unfair to us?
If this sounds radical, it’s because it is. But the witness of Christ and therefore the witness of Christians in every culture, under every variety of government is radical. We’re ultimately following the lead of a Lord who taught us to bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you. Jesus turned the world upside down by overcoming not overthrowing. He didn’t need to hold the reigns of political power to govern hearts and minds; He needed repentant people who desired to be redeemed.
The reclamation of a Christian public witness starts today. It begins with how we treat each other before the final votes are cast and counted. It starts with how we speak to and about others who choose to vote differently than us. And it starts with each of us making the decision in advance to live as representatives of Jesus Christ come what may in the world.
Not only for the sake of the Union, but for the Kingdom.