November 4, 2012

Kingdom Voters

Well, in case you’ve lived in a bunker for, let’s go with all of the last two years, there’s an election this Tuesday.  And after the 5 millionth or so ad I have encountered on my TV, iPod, computer, phone, radio, newspaper, magazines, billboards, buses, mailbox, side of the road, t-shirts, and anywhere else the candidates have thought to put them, something occurred to me: somebody must think this is a pretty important deal.  I think I even saw a graphic the other day that the campaigns have spent a total of just over ten dollars per voter.  I guess we know what America’s vote costs.  That aside, though, I would have to agree that this is an important event.  Whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not, the respective presidential candidates offered up by each party this election cycle represent two very different visions for how the country should operate, for the direction the country should take from here into the future.  If you care about the path we take from here to there, it’s worth your time to know what’s going on this particular election cycle.  Now, you may be like me and really enjoy paying attention to all the polls and debates and articles and the like, but I suspect that for most folks in here you’re simply fed up.  And yet, while you may well be past the point of tired when it comes to the efforts of the campaigns to define both themselves and the other guy, we must not let this political exhaustion translate to election apathy.  The one thing we can’t afford to do as Christians is stop caring.

Indeed, for Christians, apathy in these matters is a serious mistake.  For example, perhaps you are tired of the political talk in all the ways it is presented (ads, campaign speeches, media coverage, and etc.).  But, all of this talk reflects the way our culture thinks and reasons.  About these two things we should be very concerned because the mind plays a huge role in our following Jesus (we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength).  If our culture isn’t thinking properly, it’s not going to be in a place where following Jesus will seem like a good option.  We should thus be at least aware of this talk in order that we can assess how our culture is thinking and point it in more positive directions.  Analysis of how we can and should be engaging our culture, though, will have to wait for another time.  This morning we are going to focus on something more immediate than that: the election itself.  The question that believers all across this country are and have been asking is this: how should we think about this election…as Christians?

This question is present in the minds of many a believer for several reasons.  First, many folks who faithfully seek to follow Christ are also enthusiastically patriotic and so are concerned with the direction of the country.  Second, many believers have assessed the moral climate in the country as not particularly good right now and elections of this scale can have an impact on this.  Third, for the first time in a very long time while both candidates claim to be followers of Christ, neither candidate subscribes to a faith position that sits within the boundaries of mainstream evangelical theology (which, by the way, is where we as a church sit).  One candidate was a long time member of the United Church of Christ, one of the most theologically liberal denominations in the country.  The other candidate is a lifelong Mormon, a religious tradition still viewed by a slim majority of Christians as in fact not Christian at all in its fundamental identity.  How do we as Christians vote for someone who, judging by the statements of faith of his religious tradition does not agree with us on some key theological issues?  Should that even matter?  How should our faith play into our decision to vote for this or that candidate or this or that issue?  As people who are primarily citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world, should we even involve ourselves so intimately in the affairs of this one?

These are all very much relevant questions for believers to be asking.  And the truth is that different believers answer them in different ways.  As far as the polls reveal there is very little question that most folks who would identify themselves as evangelicals lean toward the right side of the political spectrum.  In fact, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to argue that most people who would identify themselves as followers of Christ period lean in this direction.  But this in no way means all do.  The truth is that there is great political diversity among believers in this country.  There is not a single approach taken by all believers when it comes to political posturing.  There are dedicated, Biblically sensitive, theologically sound followers of Christ occupying every point on the political spectrum in this country.  All of this, then, serves to bring us back around to where we began just a minute ago.  With apparently all of the political options on the table before us, how shall we as citizens first of the kingdom of God approach this election?

I’d like to spend the rest of our time this morning attempting to answer this.  I want to start by taking a look at a passage of Scripture that I think gives some important context for further discussion.  From here I want to offer some principles both broad and fairly specific that are worth keeping in mind as we head to the polls this Tuesday.  Now, I’m not going to tell you how to vote in any of this because that’s not my job.  My job is to give you the tools you need to think with biblical clarity about the issues at hand and vote your conscience without fear.  With that said, let’s turn to the word as we try and sort through how kingdom citizens such as ourselves should approach this election.  If you have your Bible with you, open it up to the Gospel of John.  I want to look with you this morning at a time when Jesus was put face to face with one of the political leaders of His day and what was revealed in their interaction.  Find John 18:28 and we’ll look together at this rather dramatic interchange on the final night of Jesus’ life.

“Then they [Jesus’ accusers] led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters.  It was early morning.  They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover [don’t miss the great irony of that statement, by the way].  So Pilate went outside to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’  They answered him, ‘If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.’  Pilate said to them [thinking Jesus was little more than a troublemaker and probably not a little irritated that he had been roused so early to deal with a problem the Jews were perfectly capable of handling on their own], ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’  The Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.’  This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”

At this point they have Pilate’s attention.  They are asking for the death penalty meaning that in their minds this man’s crimes went beyond merely religious matters.  Now, although John doesn’t mention it here, Luke records the actual charge the chief priests made against Jesus.  From Luke 23:2: “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.’”  Only the last of those charges was actually true.  But, thinking he might have a messiah pretender on his hands—always a costly, messy affair for Rome—Pilate goes back in to Jesus to find out some more information.  From v. 33: ‘So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’  Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’  Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew?  Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me.  What have you done?’  Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.’  Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’  Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’  After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him.’”

So what’s going on here?  What does this have to do with the election?  Well, in one sense, admittedly, nothing.  This is the conversation between Jesus and Pilate before Pilate gives in to the Jewish leaders and has Jesus crucified.  But in another sense, it has a great deal to do with how we should think about the election and our nation as a whole as followers of Jesus.  Look again at the interaction between these two powerful men; one powerful in this world, the other powerful in the kingdom.   When Pilate asks Jesus if He is the king of the Jews, Jesus does not deny the premise of the question.  Rather, He inquires back if Pilate had come to this realization on his own.  In other words, was Pilate ready to recognize Jesus’ real identity?  Being thoroughly pagan in his sensibilities, Pilate had never encountered talk or thought like this and so it zooms right over his head.  Instead he hears Jesus trying to assert some kind of authority and takes it upon himself to remind Jesus of the realities of the situation.  Well, given that Pilate’s assessment of reality is necessarily flawed, Jesus ignores this and goes back to the original question.  What did He say there?  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  In other words: “Yes, I am a king.  Yes, I do have authority.  But my authority is not of a kind you are equipped to understand.  It far supersedes yours [in another telling of this interaction Jesus observes that Pilate wouldn’t have any power at all had it not been given him].  If any of this really presented a threat to my authority, my servants would put a stop to it.  But it doesn’t.  Because My kingdom isn’t of this world, it’s merely in it.”

As Christians, we are automatically in possession of a dual citizenship.  We are citizens of whatever nation in which we happen to reside and we are citizens of the kingdom of God, the kingdom ruled over by Jesus.  This creates a tension that at times comes to a ferocious boil.  As we talked about this past summer from 1 Peter, the kingdom of this world does not like the idea that foreigners reside within its borders.  As long as we toe the line, we are tolerated mildly.  But when we stand apart from the group and stand up for the values of the kingdom of God, things get dicey.  And yet, until the final consummation of this world, the two kingdoms are going to exist side-by-side.  So how, then, should we handle this fact?  Well, how does someone handle having dual citizenship in this world?  Do they not work to see both nations prosper?  Do they not strive to be the best citizens of both of their homes?  But what about when a conflict arises?  They choose which nation possesses their ultimate loyalty and move in that direction regardless of the personal cost.

But what does this have to do with us and this election?  What does this have to say about how we should approach this election?  Here is the connection point: if we are citizens of the kingdom of God, the kingdom ruled over by Jesus, that is our first loyalty.  It matters not of which kingdom in this world we happen to also have citizenship.  Our first priority, our first loyalty is the kingdom of God.  Nothing else should come before this.  As citizens of the United States of America, we happen to have the privilege of living in a representative democracy.  It may have drifted from its foundational principles, but it is still the best, freest, most prosperous form of government ever invented by people.  Oppressed peoples throughout the world still make getting to America their life’s dream.  What this mean for us, though, is that unlike many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, we actually get a powerful say in the shape and direction of our nation.  For any professed follower of Christ, for any citizen of the kingdom of God, to abstain from involvement in working to shape our nation to more and more closely resemble our homeland—of which casting a vote at every opportunity we get is a bare minimum requirement—is to shirk one of the simplest impact opportunities we have as believers and a grave mistake.  Our involvement, though, must not be mindless.  If we are going to be involved (and by “if” I actually mean “since”), we are responsible for having an awareness of what the issues are, who the candidates are, and of where they stand on the various issues of the day.  If you go into your polling place Tuesday not aware of all of that, shame on you.  But, that’s something any citizen of this nation should be doing.  Part of being a good citizen means having a basic awareness of the political landscape of the country along with its chief players and issues in order that when called upon to register your opinion at the polls you can do so intelligently.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, though, our duty goes one step further.  We need to evaluate all of these things through the lens of the values of the kingdom.  The question we should be asking is how a vote cast for this or that person or issue is going to impact the advance of the mission of the kingdom in this world.  We examine all the available options (including write-ins if we feel such an option is necessary, as it’s better to vote being true to what we believe will advance the kingdom than it is to avoid “wasting” our vote), stack them up against our best understanding of kingdom priorities and values as expressed in Scripture, and vote accordingly.  This should be our lens.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens.  No other perspective is more important than this.  Party affiliations make no difference whatsoever.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens.

So then, what does this actually look like in practice?  Well, let’s close our time together this morning talking about this.  But prepare yourselves because this is where things might get a bit uncomfortable.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens.  But such a lens has a tendency to point us in directions other than what we might naturally find ourselves going regardless of the side of the political divide on which we might fall.  Are you ready?  Because of the sheer volume of potential topics to address and the limitations of this particular format, let’s run quickly through five of the issues which seem to be of the most concern to we the voters this year—a judgment I’m making based on the subject of the rhetoric I’ve seen: marriage, life, taxes, debt, and foreign policy.

First, what should be the culturally, politically accepted definition of marriage and should the federal government have any say in what that is?  What’s the kingdom lens here?  As we have been made aware the last couple of weeks with three more on the way, the Bible speaks directly to the issue of marriage and its definition.  Let’s look for just a minute at where the candidates stand: Our current president came into office voicing support for the traditional, heterosexual definition of marriage and has since changed his position and vocally supports homosexual marriage.  His challenger, on the other hand, has publicly affirmed his support for the traditional definition of marriage.  Those are simply the opinions of the respective candidates.  More important for us, then, is this: What’s the kingdom lens here?  While supporters of homosexual unions often use language of fairness, fairness is simply not a Biblical value.  Justice is.  And justice is concerned with what’s right, not what’s fair.  The simple truth is that there is no statement in all of the Bible which offers any kind of support for marital unions between people of the same gender.  And, while there are not any verses which explicitly prohibit such unions, there are two areas from which opposition can be drawn.  First, the Bible is explicitly clear that sexual unions between people of the same gender violate God’s created order.  Given the physical intimacy assumed to be a part of any marriage relationship, this clear position is deeply problematic for Christians inclined to support such unions.  Second, as we looked at last week, the first man was completed by the first woman.  Had some other union be equally suitable, would it not have made sense of God to model it?  This is somewhat of an argument from silence, but valid nonetheless.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens and the kingdom lens on this issue seems to point in the direction of actively affirming the traditional understanding of marriage which, by the way, has been affirmed by every culture and religion without exception in human history until this one.

The next issue in the line up here is life.  What’s the kingdom lens on life?  As citizens of the kingdom, we serve the God who is the author of life.  Jesus declared Himself to be the life.  There is no life but through Him.  Because of this, we must be unwavering in our support of human life in all its forms.  Taking a minute to look at the respective major candidates, one has been consistent throughout the campaign regarding his opposition to abortion with the narrow exception for cases of rape and incest.  The other has been explicitly supportive of every form of abortion, including what’s sometimes called post-birth abortion, without any exceptions.  Now, this is an emotional, deeply personal issue.  The impact of abortion for whatever reason is poignant and long in the lives of those who have experienced it.  But, there are three things that should impact our view.  First, scientifically speaking, the life growing inside a mother’s womb is, as a matter of definition, a human life from the moment of conception on.  We can make arguments over when personhood begins, but the creature is from day one of the genus Homo Sapien Sapien which is commonly called a human being.  Those in favor of the practice of abortion of any kind must make the case as to the set of conditions in which it is acceptable to put an innocent human being to death.  Second, passages like Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1 speak to the involvement of God in the life of human beings still in utero.  Putting to death, regardless of the reason, a human being in whose life God is involved should give us pause.  Third, while we are busy advocating for the life of the unborn, we must not overlook the already-born.  This point criticism of the political right by the political left has too often been valid.  We must be as passionately concerned with caring for the widows and orphans as we are the unborn.  If these passions are not paralleled and backed by relevant actions, from the perspective of the kingdom, there’s a problem.  From the perspective of politics, this last issue has been one on which the political left has often done better than the political right.  And while some folks may not like the approach most often advocated, the fact is that the right’s inclination toward a hands-off, pull-your-own-self-up approach is flawed and, frankly, unrealistic.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens.  The kingdom lens on the issue of life is that we must support life in all its forms and on both sides of the womb.

Now, if the first two issues have received some attention on more of the sideshow stages of the campaign, this next issue has been featured front and center: what should be the role and shape of taxes in our nation?  What does the kingdom lens reveal here?  There are two places in the Gospels that speak specifically to taxes.  In the first, Jesus tells Peter to catch a fish in order to get a coin to pay the temple tax for the two of them.  In the second, Jesus rather famously told the Pharisees and Herodians that people should render to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to him.  Later in one of his letters, Paul instructed believers to pay their taxes.  From the kingdom lens, believers should pay their taxes and without grumbling.  Speaking to the national debates ongoing over the last several months, though, as mentioned before, fairness is not a Biblical value.  Speaking about some people paying more taxes than others as a matter of fairness is a meaningless argument as far as the Bible goes.  That said, the idea that those who have been blessed with excess sacrificing a greater percentage of their wealth to support causes that benefit their community is not an unbiblical one.  On the other hand, in this country, at least, the wealthiest citizens already do pay significantly more than the poorest both as a percentage and as a raw amount.  The question we should be posing to advocates of fairness is this: what counts as fair?  This should be rigorously defined if it is going to be held up as standard.  Through the lens of the kingdom, however, we should also be deeply concerned about stewardship.  If higher taxes are necessary—and sometimes they are—the purpose should be explicit and locked in place by law.  The fact is that there is a great amount of documented waste by politicians of all stripes.  Where our vote can send the message that this is not acceptable, we should seek to do so.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens.  The lens here points in the direction of a tax code that is simple and just and is not structured in ways that are aimed to achieve social ends.

We really can’t talk about taxes in the current political climate without touching on the subject of debt.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens and the kingdom certainly has a thing or two to say about debt.  First, we should avoid debt like the plague.  The borrower is slave to the lender says Proverbs 22:7.  Let me make a clear, bold statement: the level of debt our nation is facing right now is immoral.  There’s simply not another way to think about it.  Now, we can blame the source of the debt on a variety of things, but the truth is that the political right has been as complicit in the problem as the political left.  Through the lens of the kingdom, working to reduce and ultimately to eliminate our nation’s debt should be a high priority for us.  Unfortunately, we have perhaps reached the point at which simply changing the tax code or growing the economy is not going to fully solve the problem.  But, and this is a key point here, we as individual kingdom citizens cannot justly criticize the government for the amount of debt it has taken on until we have eliminated our own debt.  And if kingdom citizens run even in the same realm as the average citizen of this country in terms of debt, we have little room to speak to the government on the issue of debt.  If we are worshiping the god Mammon in our own lives, we cannot rail on the speck in our neighbor’s eye.  And unfortunately, the road back to financial sanity from a period of out of control spending and debt is in all likelihood going to be painful.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens, and the lens here is that we must put a priority on the elimination of debt through the most loving, but direct pathway possible.

One final issue and then we’re out of here: foreign policy.  There is just one comment I want to make here.  Our nation is in a unique place in terms of its ability to have an influence on the affairs of other nations in the world.  As citizens of the kingdom, our chief foreign policy concern should be for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who do not enjoy the freedoms which are almost contemptible in their commonality to us.  Something that stood out to me in the final presidential debate is that as each of the candidates spoke about the kinds of things for which the United State should advocate in the world, religious freedom was not mentioned by either candidate.  Neither of these two professed Christians (whether or not you accept their claim is up to you) uttered a single word about the duty of this nation to advocate for Christian believers around the world who make up the single most persecuted group of people in the world.  There is no other group of people in this world who face the regularity and intensity of persecution borne by citizens of the kingdom of God on a daily basis.  We know the reasons for this—the world does not like our dual citizenship and works hard to convince us to relinquish it.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take an active role in making things as easy as possible for those facing the world’s wrath.  Kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens and the lens here is focused on seeing all people in the world possess the freedom to worship the God of the universe as they were designed to do.

Now, while there is certainly more to say here, I am completely out of time, so let me close by making two affirmations.  First, however the election turns out, God will still be sovereign and His kingdom will still be coming.  This election may be one of the most significant our country has faced in some time, but God is still bigger.  Second, let me affirm our principle one last time: kingdom citizens should vote through a kingdom lens.  How will you advance the kingdom through your vote this Tuesday?  That is your first priority, not simply supporting a candidate.  I hope you’ll give this some thought over the next two days and act accordingly.