I can’t believe I’m doing this. I really can’t. Outside of a few vague posts on social media, I have stayed completely out of making any comments about the American political situation leading into the 2016 election for the next President of the United States of America.
I’ve been [primarily internally] chewing on thoughts for some months now and, so, I decided to offer some reflections up to this point. I offer these thoughts not as an expert. Good gracious, no! But I do offer it by hopefully adding a little different flavor to the mix. I share these thoughts as one who has stepped outside the American context and watched it from abroad, having lived in Europe (the UK and Belgium) for 8+ years, as well as being married to a beautiful Brit.
Again, none of this makes me an expert. But it at least brings a slightly different perspective. If anything, I’ve been able to step outside my normative context for a lengthy period of time to reassess my own and my culture’s particular perspectives.
Here are 5 points.
1) Politics are good, at least as it relates to the work of God in the socio-political context of real people in real history and time. I’ve commented before on how the gospel is political. But not in the way that comes to mind in a super-charged American setting we know all-too-well today. The early church believed the gospel was political because, in it, they were declaring that, “Jesus is king; Caesar is not.” That statement does not hold as much weight in our world today, as people do not normally see leaders in the west as God-in-the-flesh, an official son of God, etc. That’s exactly how the Romans viewed Caesar – or were told to view him. Hence why the Jesus story was so counter-cultural as the gospel began to spread across the Roman empire. And the gospel still declares today that, above anyone or anything else, Jesus is king. Honestly, that’s about as political as you can get! Also, the word “politics” has at its root in the Greek word “polis,” which we translate as city (metro-polis). But this word literally refers to the people. If anything, the gospel is “poli-tical” because it is “for the people.”
Ok, that first point is from a larger, bird’s eye view. The following points pertain to details about the current American political system.
2) In my time living abroad, I slowly became aware of the odd disfunctionality of the American political situation. It really is a site to see, and I don’t mean that in a positive sense. I recall the lead up to the 2012 elections and watching social media from across the ocean in Belgium. At times, it left me quite sickened (or more). It was absolutely mind-boggling. In 2008, many of the social media platforms were still very new to the public sphere (MySpace was still strong; Facebook and Twitter were relatively new). But the 2012 elections allowed for social media to have it’s biggest blast onto the political scene to date. The 2016 elections are paving the way for even more! But the vitriol, lamenting, and outright crazy behavior I saw, and now see, portrayed by Americans on social media during the presidential election is second to none! It’s literally unfathomable. Many Europeans I speak to continue to be baffled at the overly super-charged nature of American politics and how everything is painted into such strict black and white perspectives. But this gets people more airtime and more money. So it must march on.
3) The continual lamenting of particular candidates (whether Trump or Hillary or Bernie or Cruz or another) actually only helps those candidates. Negative airtime is still airtime. We just don’t get this…at all. For example, I watch people lambast and lament Donald Trump on a daily basis on Twitter and Facebook. I mean terabytes upon terabytes (a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes) of stuff being put up. But this simply fuels the campaign, ignites the fire even more on behalf of the candidate. When are folk going to get this? I don’t think they will because it would temper the political pandemonium of America. We must keep the machine running.
4) I’m starting to notice that those who are lambasting certain political candidates are beginning to act very similar to the way they claim their lamented candidate acts. I’m usually seeing folk abhor Trump. And I admit that I see Trump as having a strongly racist, xenophobic, sexist, dangerous view on many fronts. If there was a physical picture of the opposite of humility, it might be Donald Trump. But there are folk that are imitating Trump’s own tactics as they detest Trump. Again, part of the sideshow circus. Keep the machine well-oiled.
5) The continued and severe lamenting (especially by those claiming to be Christians) of certain political candidates who are racking up primary delegate numbers makes me wonder if our actual trust is in a convoluted system that will not deliver on what it says it will. Listen, I have no problem with involvement with politics (even in our current world today); I have no problem with voting, nor even supporting the candidate you feel is best. But points 2-5 that I’ve highlighted above show an immense out-of-sorts trust in a political system that is not the kingdom of God, never has been, nor ever will be. There are positives and negatives to each political system, each platform, each candidate. But none of them will “save America.” None of them will “make America great again” (and that’s not just a Trump slogan, but something most, if not all, politicians say they are working towards). America has had and does have some really good things; I don’t want to deny this. But America is not God’s gift to the world by any means. Nor is the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, John Kasich, or anyone or anything else of the sorts. When the candidate we’ve chosen to support does not win, or better yet, when the candidate we loathe does win, and we react the way we so easily do in America, it shows our allegiance is wrongly placed in this systematic machine. These systems will not deliver as promised. They can’t because they are not kingdom.
I could offer a few other thoughts on the current state of politics, but I’ll leave it there for now.
In the end, Paul said the cross was a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, but to God the cross was the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:23-24). Paul went on to say, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). He wasn’t saying something like “the gospel is only about the cross.”
What was going on here was this: Paul was saying that, because the Corinthians were so focused on power and wisdom (read the letter and how they were regularly and selfishly subverting one another), I’m going to exhibit for them what power and wisdom really looks like from a God perspective. I’m only going to talk about the crucifixion of Jesus. That is how power and wisdom are practiced in the kingdom of God. It doesn’t look like it, especially when considering Rome’s politics, or American politics. But it truly is.
What is leadership? Willingness to endure capital punishment on a cross.
What is power? Willingness to endure capital punishment on a cross.
What is wisdom? Willingness to endure capital punishment on a cross.
What is success? Willingness to endure capital punishment on a cross.
That’s our king. That’s the kingdom of God in flesh and blood reality.