In this political season, there is endless news coverage of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Media covers every embarrassing nuance of their campaigns, every step forward, backward, and sideways and delivers it to a salivating public. Very bright people have written insightful pieces about both candidates. Yet, around the world, friends ask, “What is happening in America?” Or, “Who will you vote for?”
To the latter question, I decline every attempt to extract my political tendency. The Christian calling is to minister to all people, not just Democrats or Republicans, but every human being. Bonhoeffer declined an invitation to wait out World War II in New York, famously writing to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”
In a much reduced sense compared to 1930s Germany, we the people of the U.S.A. face a national trial. The trial is not whether to choose Trump, Clinton, or another candidate. The trial, for Christians, is to keep focused on God when everything in our culture calls us to focus our attention on politics. Specifically, twenty-first-century American culture tries to convince people that they should be afraid, that they the can solve their own problems, or some other humanist response to life’s problems. Many people weigh the pros and cons of various policies. If I vote for this person, they think to themselves, he (or she) will do such-and-such.
Does humanity have the answer? Often, we do not even know the right question to ask. Therefore, politicians certainly do not have the answers for human problems. The year 2016 has devolved into a political quagmire. Is the answer to turn the nation to Jesus? Not necessarily. Conversion by force is rarely transformational, even when God uses something evil for good (Genesis 50:20).
Thankfully, and due to diligence from Baptist figures like Roger Williams, the U.S. separates church and state. This belief is a basic tenet of Baptist theology. Whether a person votes or Clinton or Trump matters less than whether the person is truly seeking God. Like watching trashy television shows, the current political season is difficult to tune out. Admittedly, this season is entertaining. Comedians, like Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, add to the entertainment by highlighting the zanier aspects of the democratic process. However, voting is serious business.
By participating in the democratic process, Christians can continue to be part of the separation of church and state, and the American Dream continues. Each person exercises another Baptist tenet—the priesthood of all believers. They do not wait to see who their priest or minister tells them to support. Instead, each person makes a conscious choice, and in the privacy of the voting booth, votes for the person he or she chooses.
When candidates appropriate faith (i.e. Vote for me, if you’re a real Christian), they misrepresent what it means to be a Christians. Being a Christian is about following Jesus. During this election season, well-meaning Christians tout candidates using logical fallacies, like Voting for that person leads to a slippery slope. Much of the rhetoric candidates espouse is unachievable, at best. Instead of binging on news and hanging on every ridiculous statement politicians make, Christians will be more edified by focusing on Christ.
Avoiding distractions in the Christian journey is one of the greatest challenges. C.S. Lewis noted the ease of tripping up the faith walk in The Screwtape Letters. He writes, “It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.” Politics would be one of Screwtape’s contemporary tools. By getting people arguing about, not discussing or dialoguing, but arguing, people undo God’s good work.
Being engaged with politics and being distracted from Christ by them are two different notions. People can follow the news, read issues, and make an informed decision, while remaining engaged in the Christian journey. When watching one more gaff on YouTube takes the place of daily devotions and prayers, we have become unnecessarily distracted from Christ. “Look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2a).