“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November…”
This past Tuesday we saw a peaceful change of the political landscape. In the weeks and months prior, we also saw some very nasty campaigning on both sides of the political spectrum. This is nothing new, of course. Going all the way back to the very beginning of American electoral politics, we do well to remind ourselves that candidates lacked civility right from the very start. Indeed, the corruptions of human nature haven’t changed in over 200 years.
Unfortunately, Christians all too often get caught up in the frenzy of politics and leave behind charity in the process. I’m preaching to myself here as I used to get snared into the frenzy myself in my younger days. We have a tendency to vilify our political opponents (including fellow Christians) and take a completely man-centered approach to political decisions. We forget that God is sovereign over all things, including who happens to govern our nation.
To be sure, we shouldn’t take the Anabaptist approach and eschew politics entirely. These matters are very important and literal life-and-death decisions are made by those we elect. Issues like abortion, national defense, and foreign policy immediately come to mind. Less serious, but still very important, we also consider decisions like taxation, regulations, and other areas of government intervention into our lives. Christians ought to have a voice in these matters.
For Christians, problems arise when take things to the other extreme and turn politics into idolatry. It’s easy to let yourself get consumed by all of this. Another problem is the extent to which Christians forget the admonitions we find in Romans 13:1-7. We may not like the leaders we have, but God has placed them in office and we owe them the respect due any leader who occupies said office. What Paul said in that passage is not a suggestion.
Disagree with your leaders, sure, but don’t be disrespectful. By mocking and vilifying certain civil magistrates, you are dishonoring the offices they hold. The history of Guy Fawkes and the infamous “gunpowder plot” is an extreme example of this, the act of taking the law into your own hands. At times this sentiment degenerates into wanton violence (e.g., the Peasant Revolt during Luther’s time). This is never acceptable no matter how just the cause.
That being said, we shouldn’t be afraid to call out leaders who make ethically reprehensible decisions. Such is the mission of the church in this situation. The church must be in a position to provide a voice of moral clarity–a position which is ultimately compromised when the church engages in partisan politics. Indeed, the church must be above the den of politics and keep itself from getting sucked into these worldly affairs. We can do this and still speak truth to power.
What I’m talking about here is nothing new. It’s the simple distinction between the kingdoms of men and the Kingdom of God. We do well to remember that all nations–including our beloved America–will eventually fall. Civil governments are all temporal in that sense. Important as they are, they contain no promises of salvation for the soul. They exist as extensions of God’s common grace and nothing more. Elections come and go, but the Kingdom of God is forever.