At several points in the United State’s Presidential election this year I half jokingly suggested that every Christian simply write in “Jesus” as our leader of choice. Considering our options, if the campaign #JesusForPresident had gained momentum, I wouldn’t have been surprised if even delusional atheists had would have cast their vote that direction. However, one of my housemates informed me that in Washington State, writing in a name for anyone who has not declared they are officially running automatically nullifies the entire ballot. So much for writing in my idealistic candidate.
So if I can’t write in “Jesus” for President (at least, not and still expect my vote to count), how does a Christian synthesize God with politics? This has been a divisive topic for many Christians, particularly this election. Some abstain from voting altogether. Others “vote their conscious” by selecting third-party candidates. Still others opted for Trump or Clinton, warning one another their faith was in jeopardy for supporting the opposing candidate. In such a climate it was easy to wonder: does God even care or should we categorize faith and politics separately?
For the past month every morning I’ve prayed out loud the most well-known prayer in the Bible, the one Jesus taught his followers in Matthew 6:9-13:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
As I daily prayed these words, the meaning of “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth like it is in heaven” began to deepen.
I realized that “kingdom” translated into modern English would essentially be nation-state or political system.
“No wonders Jesus was considered so revolutionary in his day!” I thought.
Jesus was always talking about a system completely counter to the one his people were living in. Many of his followers thought he was talking about a literal kingdom, a new political system he was about to bring in and become ruler over.
“No wonders their dreams were shattered when he died!”
During his time on earth, Jesus challenged systems of oppression and the rulers who held them in place. These included both religious and political powers which were interconnected in the cultures that he lived among. Yet his form of challenge often looked less like confrontation and more like elevation of the marginalized, healing the blind who were forced to beg, lepers who were prohibited from worship, women who were shunned from society. Similarly, when we pray that God’s kingdom–or rather, heaven-based politics–will be implemented here on earth, we may be surprised by where God is most at work.
“If we are to see God’s kingdom come and will be done, on earth as in heaven, we must first recognize that what we mostly experience here on earth is not heaven, and may actually feel closer to hell for some,” Bob Ekblad wrote in A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God. (p.52).
Bob continues saying: “This recognition is more difficult for those vested with the benefits of this world: credit, capital, economic and social success, acceptance, family support, racial profile, and citizenship that offer special entitlements or any sort of privileged status.”
Bob then points out how Jesus emphasized that’s it’s hard for a rich person to enter this new system, that it’s actually easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter (Matthew 19:23-24).
While Jesus goes on to say that ‘with God all things are possible’ (19:26), his words here show the difficulty of entry into God’s kingdom unless people have first left the kingdom or systems of this world. Ministry among inmates, immigrants, and homeless people has helped me see how systems that work or are at least tolerable for people of relative privilege like myself are completely unlivable for people on the margins. They have already left ‘the world’ in a sense and are a big step closer to reentry into the kingdom of God than many mainstreamers (Eckblad, pp.52-53).
Jesus talked constantly about this kingdom, this other world, this “new system” as we might call it in our decade. The system looked entirely different from what people expected, completely counter to what they expected a leader to do. Jesus shattered divisions and created new ones. He broke down structures and created bridges, across languages, cultures, ethnicities and worldviews. Perhaps most mind-blowing of all was when after he came back to life, he left earth almost immediately with the instructions that the new system he had taught his followers wasn’t just for them and their ethnic group, but for everybody.
No wonders they were shocked when God’s Spirit began to include people from other language and ethnic communities!
One of these followers, Peter, became a leader of the movement and would later write a letter to those scattered around Asia and the Middle East calling them “a holy nation.” (1 Peter 2:9). God’s “kingdom” or “nation” does not follow country borders. Instead it’s like a wild weed—like mustard—popping up wherever we least expect it. This is why as I write this piece on the eve of Election Day, I have hope. Not in the US political system, not in a presidential candidate, not in a new Initiative, but in God’s nation that’s global and resilient with a just leader who will continue year after year after year. Perhaps it is fitting that election season is on the cusp of Christmas when we celebrate this leader first coming to earth:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. ~Isaiah 9:6-7