America is in a presidential campaign that is so bad, it’s compelling. A presidential election here gets enough people’s attention, but is usually accompanied with what is considered, and to a large extent I’m afraid, rightfully so, the humdrum of American politics, often more about personalities and polls, than actual policy, style (and often bad, I’m afraid) over substance. This election is different in that one of the nominees is clearly outside the norm, but in ways that arguably, and I believe without a doubt is not for the good of the nation. Though maybe out of it some good can come. But hopefully not at the expense of this candidate getting elected.
This leads me to consider just what role the church might play in all of this. And front and center, for me, I’m not sure directly if the church should play much of a role at all. Because the mission of the church is to be a witness- in life, proclamation (which includes regular Eucharist), and deed- to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That gospel actually is political, because it addresses all of life, not only an individual’s relationship to God. Through Jesus in his person, life, teachings, death and resurrection, ascension, with the promise of his return. All of that is part and parcel of the good news of God in him.
What is left then, for the church to do with reference to the politics of this world? I think it gets tricky at this point, myself. Jeremiah 29 (see verse 7) might be a key in trying to think through what our role as God’s people can be this election season. I am looking forward to the release of a book to help us forward in this consideration and potential activity: Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity , by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. I think we have to consider the full sweep of scripture, beginining in Genesis 1, as well as the Story we find embedded in it. The church must not get sidetracked from its call to be a witness to the gospel in Jesus. But out from that call can come efforts to help even state institutions where that’s possible, without getting caught up by those insitutions, and merely used by them for their own ends.
Perhaps the most the church can and should do with reference to the politics of this world, and specifically considering the upcoming presidential election, is to be an example of what the true politic from the Truth (Jesus, the way, the truth and the life) looks like, and that in a broken world of which the church is a part. So that we are first to help the poor, to help women and the unborn, to help victims of evil in practical ways, etc., while we point everyone to the one hope that will endure.
Maybe from our midst might come those who like Daniel might sense a call to serve in some civic duty. If so, the church would do well to lay hands on them and pray, and always be present for counsel, while continuing to hold them up in prayer, even as they remain faithful as members of the one body in Christ.
What the church must refuse to do is take any partisan position, say either Republican or Democrat; conservative, libertarian, liberal, progressive, whatever. The church should not be known for taking such partisan stands. Even if there might be a time to take a difficult stand, as was the case with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Allan R. Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness, is a must-read, and crucial in considering this.
We as God’s people in Jesus, the church, will do our best work in a kind of inconspicuous, yet ever present way. We need to hold steady to our calling, which itself is much more communal than individual, and political than we have been led to imagine. Unfortunately we have given the political reins over to the state. In some matters, only the state carries on certain affairs, such as police action, and stopping evil doers, hopefully only when necessary with force. We live in the present with the promise of the future, the fulfilling of which begins here and now in Jesus. And we seek to promote good wherever we can, as we pray for the good of the nation in which we live. As witnesses of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Bringing light into the darkness in every corner, in and through Jesus.