In my tribe of believers we have a quaint practice.
There is no American flag in our auditoriums/sanctuaries.
It is a nod to our historic approach to government. While we were happy to be citizens and while we honor and respect our elected officials, we recognized our primary allegiance was to God, not to the United States government. So in the places where we came weekly to remind ourselves to whom we belonged and whom we served, there would be no symbols of empire. We recognized that the subjects of the Kingdom of God found themselves citizens in all nations and yet under the the rule of One who transcended all government.
Our unity is not based on political parties or forms of government: but upon the Spirit.
However, some have mistakenly suggested that Christianity should leave the secular things alone and concentrate only on spiritual things; that somehow we should not comment on our country or on policy. We somehow should avoid the stance of prophet and instead lock ourselves in our church buildings and remain spiritual (whatever that means).
The truth is there is no separation between sacred and secular. All creation is God’s and therefore under his rule. All creation was called good and to be cared for and participated in. So as followers of Jesus we do have the obligation to seek the best for the country where we live. But of course, even that obligation can be interpreted in different ways.
The very act of public worship is political action. Worship is a political statement. It is a statement saying that Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein are not the saviors of America. It is a statement saying our trust is not in our constitution, our government, our armed forces, even our laws. That the follower of Jesus is not to place his ultimate allegiance, trust, or hope in governments or rights or economics.
Our worship is a political act that says we will not trust in chariots or horses, or tanks, or bombs, a healthy GDP, job growth, the stock market, presidential candidates, or party platforms. Our trust is not in legislative power, laws, elections, or supreme court justices.
Our trust is in the Lord our God.
While trust in candidates and platforms tend to divide those who claim allegiance to Jesus, trust in God should unite believers.
So, in every political discussion we must keep in mind the unity created by the Spirit and do everything in our power to maintain the unity God has provided (Ephesians 4:1-4). In every political discussion we are required by love to give our sisters and our brothers the benefit of a doubt (1 Corinthians 13:7–“love believes all things”).
To attack the intelligence or motives of our brothers and sisters is not in keeping with our call to love, our call to be kind, or our call to be gentle. To speak harshly goes against Paul’s admonitions.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Note the “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” How does one do that? But dividing, by hating, by slander, by being cruel to each other. The Spirit creates unity–when we act in ways counter-productive to unity we break the heart of God.
Can we recognize that Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens have good motives and yet all of our parties have problems? That is, can we recognize we are all humans with a mixed bag of motives? Just because you are against the Affordable Health Care Act doesn’t mean you are against the poor getting adequate health care. Just because your candidate defends Roe v. Wade doesn’t mean you want to see abortions increase.
Here are some differences (albeit simplistic) between the parties that have similar underlying motivations.
The Democratic party believes the poor should be cared for. Lyndon B. Johnson had the idyllic belief that government could solve the problem of poverty and so he instituted programs run by the government to that end.
Johnson’s motivation, and the motivation of many fine Christians was (and is) compassion for the poor. His solution was a centralized approach funded by federal tax dollars.
The Republican (and Libertarian) party believes the poor should be cared for, too. However, they believe government has never been particularly efficient at anything except for the military (and there’s even debate about that–but that is mandated by the constitution). Republicans and conservatives believe the poor are best taken care of when local governments and non-profits step in. For one, it demands more face to face encounter and more ownership of the problem from the local community.
The Republican motivation, and the motivation of many fine Christians is compassion for the poor. Their solution is a local approach by local governments and citizens.
Pro-life. The Republican party believes that the unborn is the most under-represented group of humanity on the planet. They have no voice, they have no protector and it is the human duty to protect the helpless. This is an attitude that goes way back to the first century when Christians brought social pressure to bear (not through legislation or protests but through caring action) and infanticide was finally done away with.
As a result of this desire to protected the voiceless, thousands of pregnancy centers across America have been created to help women find the necessary resources to avoid abortion and care for their children. Free prenatal and post natal health care are provided. Alternative solutions such as adoption services are provided as well as supplies, financial counseling, and in some cases psychological counseling are offered to help the new mother to care for the health of her new born (there is one such center in our small town of 25,000).
The Republican party (as a party) believes the answer to the abortion problem is to legislate and outlaw abortion–or at least overturn Roe vs Wade which would not outlaw abortion, but return legislative control back to the individual states.
Pro-choice. Most (but not all) of the Democratic party believe women have been ill abused for generations and have not been able to protect themselves from aggression that includes forced pregnancies. They generally believe that the woman as an autonomous human has the right to make decisions regarding her own body.
This does not mean Democrats like abortion. Many who vote Democrat believe abortion should be rare but available. They believe more attention should be paid to educating young people about responsible sexual practices and preventing pregnancy before it happens. Some Democrats are actively opposed to abortion (Democrats for Life).
Democrats perceive an inconsistency among “pro-life” advocates because there is a tendency for pro-life advocates to be pro-death penalty and pro-military intervention–which ends in the taking of life. In the case of military intervention one cannot argue that only guilty life is taken. The existence of the sterilized euphemism “collateral damage” is enough to make the case. The fact is, no modern day military conflict avoids the death of innocent civilians and non-combatants. In the case of the death penalty there has been ample evidence that many innocent men and women have been on death row and have only narrowly escaped the needle through later DNA testing.
The Libertarian party believes matters of abortion should revert back to the states but not made illegal, so sometimes they are perceived as pro-life and sometimes they are perceived as pro-abortion. It’s complicated.
All parties believe abortion should be at minimum rare. All parties believe generally that abortion is a tragedy. But they differ about whether or not the government should intervene.
Do you notice an inconsistency here? In one instance (health care and poverty) the Republican believes in less government intervention while Democrats believe in more, and in another instance (abortion) Republicans believe in more intervention while Democrats believe in less.
Like I said, it’s complicated.
The follower of Christ has to navigate through all of these options and choose which makes the most sense. On one hand there is the bent to be the voice for the voiceless. But on the other hand there is the desire to seek justice for the poor–who can also be voiceless. Then there are those Christians who believe the active taking of any life is not in the spirit of Jesus.
What is not a matter of faith. While you may strongly believe in second amendment rights and the free market system–those are not issues related to following Jesus in particular. They are certainly important issues, but they are not issues that directly relate to following Jesus. To condemn those who are pro-gun rights or those who are against gun-rights as somehow being unChristian is simply wrong. Affordable Heath Care Act: You may think it is a horrible plan, you may think it is the best thing in the world. It isn’t a matter of faith.
I urge you to think through your convictions. I urge you to ignore simplistic single issue votes and if you choose to vote, do so according to your informed convictions–not according to the convictions of others. If you feel Trump is the only way you can vote in good conscience then vote for him. If you feel Clinton is the only choice you have, then vote for her. If you feel both candidates are not equipped or represent ungodly choices, then vote third party, write in a candidate or do not vote. As an American citizen it is your right to make any of these choices.
As a Christian it is your duty to vote or not vote according to your conscience–according to what you believe God informs you to do.
But of one thing you do not have a choice over if you are a Christian: How you treat others. You can speak no evil–you cannot condemn others who vote differently than you or who honestly disagree with you. It is not your right to judge the motivations. It is not your right to cut off friends and family members for disagreeing with you.
And you must do everything you can to preserve the unity that the Spirit of God created.
During election years I am reminded the wisdom of my tribe: no American flag in the auditorium or sanctuary. It is a strong political statement that says no matter who is President or who controls the legislative branch, your ultimate loyalty and allegiance is to God.