In this election season I commonly see people passionately speaking in support of their candidate, their party and their platform. Very often, the way they choose to communicate their fervor indicates, either overtly or covertly, that they are convinced God is on their side. God is in favor of their candidate. God is in favor of their platform. They are right and they have God’s endorsement.
This whole way of thinking about God and politics assumes that God’s only option for choosing His agenda is a two party political system. In the Bible, we find Joshua wrestling with this same set of wrong assumptions.
“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”” (Joshua 5:13–14, ESV)
God appears to Joshua in this story just before the siege of Jericho. Joshua assumes that God is either on his side or on the side of his enemies. He runs smack into the revelation that God doesn’t necessarily have to choose sides in the way Joshua thinks He does. God is on His own side. He has His own agenda. He operates according to His own counsel.
But let’s take a moment and just hypothetically consider–how would Jesus vote?
We must first acknowledge how ridiculous that is before we seriously consider it. To answer the question, we must take a peak at Jesus in the gospels. Let’s just say there wasn’t really a voting option available. The whole discussion is quite anachronistic, an effort to project our historical cultural reality and assumptions back onto a previous time where they don’t apply.
The second thing we will benefit from recognizing is that in Jesus’ day, there was no separation of politics and religion, state and church. The political leadership was to some degree invested in the Sanhedrin. This was a religious body. Israel was governed by Herod the Great and then Herod Antipas, who was all at once in cahoots with Rome and with the religious leadership. Roman emperors considered themselves divine. The distinctions between religion and politics we assume without question were not even remotely present in Jesus’ day.
But though Jesus could not vote, there were sides available for him to choose. There were political options he could have aligned himself with.
The Sadducees: This influence group held formal political and religious power. Many of them were priests. They represented the aristocracy of Jerusalem. Corruption was rampant. They were personally invested in maintaining the status quo and keeping Rome happy.
The Pharisees: This influence group held no formal political or religious power, yet leveraged a huge amount of social influence over the people. Recognizing the problems of pagan oppression, unjust taxation, and political/religious corruption as evidence of a people still in exile, they saw the root issue as being moral decline in society. God’s people were not following God’s law. They exercised their influence, not just to maintain personal standards of morality and integrity, but to motivate all of Jewish society to do the same. They were willing to use violence and the threat of violence to accomplish this.
The Essenes: This group’s solution was separatism. Their answer to the moral/religious/political problems of their day was to completely disconnect from society and maintain purity from corruption by not associating with the evils of society.
Zealots: This group was invested in resistance. They were committed to resisting Rome, Hellenistic culture, and all pagan influence by inciting violence and insurrection against the powers of their day.
Each of these groups, I’m sure, would love to have found an influential guy like Jesus and discovered he was “on their side.” I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t really choose sides. All of those options represented the kingdoms of this world. Jesus was all about advancing a kingdom agenda from another world.
As a nation, we are currently facing a complex set of significant moral issues. Abortion. National debt. Education. Healthcare. Same sex marriage. War. Homelessness. Poverty. Education. Unemployment. Terrorism. Social Security. Tolerance. To think that “my” side of the aisle has an effective set of solutions to all these problems is arrogant.
We, as in Jesus’ day, have a similar set of options available to us. There are some Christians who seem committed to compromise, appeasement, and maintaining the status quo. Some are all about resisting the moral decline of culture and finding ways to leverage political power to achieve that goal. They lobby. They engage others of similar faith in political activism. Some Christians disengage as much as possible, living separatist lives. Maybe they homeschool their kids (I homeschool mine). Maybe they choose not to vote at all, electing not to participate in such a corrupt system. Others stockpile guns, ammo, canned food, and bottled water, joining militias and dreaming of civil uprising.
Pastors nationwide are calling for our political activism. Some even go so far as to indicate which side of the aisle God wants us to vote on. God is on “our” side.
But how would Jesus vote?
It’s the wrong question. It assumes that Jesus plans to fix the brokenness of our world through a political process. What we in fact find is that Jesus plans to love. He plans to die. He plans to rise again. He plans to pour out the Holy Spirit. He plans to build His Church. His agenda has very little to do with a ballot box.
In this nation, we have been given the privilege of voting and therefore the responsibility to vote. We should steward this responsibility as best we can with integrity in alignment with our values. We should vote with humility, rather than with a sense of pride in being right. We should vote with an awareness that “our” side is wrong about some things too. The knowledge of good will still bring death as quickly as the knowledge of evil.
But don’t think God’s kingdom agenda hinges on how we vote. God’s kingdom agenda seems to move forward best in the least favorable political and economic environments. God’s kingdom agenda is guaranteed to never stop moving forward. God’s kingdom agenda operates through love, not through voting.