By and large, this year’s elections have been characterized by vicious vitriol, sensational sectarianism, and fierce fearmongering. Politicians and pundits of both sides herald sad tidings if the future is held by those across the aisle: the end of liberty; the end of democracy; the end of America.
As a Christian, I have to accept the idea that any moment could bring the end of America. Nearly 250 years is actually a pretty good run for a nation as one considers the scope of human history. However, in spite of the doom and gloom coming from both camps, I think it bears noting that our founding fathers were pretty clever men; both the tripartite nature of US government (executive, legislative, judicial) and the structure within those branches are actually designed so as to prevent radical change. Of course, no person can know the future, and external forces could have just as much if not more do with America’s fate than internal ones, but there is every reason to think that life in America will not radically change no matter what the outcome is on November 3.
Whether America changes radically or not, it might be the case that radical change is needed for the man in the mirror. We are conditioned in America to think that government is “of the people” – we choose it, we are free to evaluate it, and, if we want, we can scrap it if it ceases to meet with our approval. This view of government simply does not square with what the Bible teaches. Governments are set in order by God Himself (Romans 13:1-4), which means that no matter who rules in government or how they rule in government, they are in some way there by God’s design. God never calls Christians to change their government, but His teachings frequently call them to change themselves as they respond to government. Further, the sectarianism that has characterized this year’s election cycle might present another call to change, as “rivalries, dissensions, divisions” are among the works of the flesh that can be no part of the lives of those led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:20 ESV).
So, regardless of the outcome on November 3, what things should Christians prepare themselves to do on November 4?
Christians should prepare themselves to submit. After teaching God’s role in ordaining governments, Paul tells Christians, “Therefore you must be subject” (Romans 13:5; “in subjection” – ESV). Two practical reasons are given for this subjection: 1) “because of wrath,” the God-given right that governments have to “execute wrath on him who practices evil” (vv. 4-5); 2) “for conscience’ sake,” likely referring to the Christian’s knowledge of God’s role in creating government, but possibly referencing the deleterious effects disobedience to authority of any kind has on one’s conscience. Being subject demands tax-paying, even if those taxes seem unfair (vv. 6-7). It also demands that we submit ourselves “to every ordinance,” even those we dislike, and to every level of government (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Christians should prepare themselves to show respect. By the time Paul stood before Agrippa and Festus, he had been held for over two years in prison by a government official named Felix who was looking for a bribe (Acts 24:26). Though that official had been replaced by Festus, Festus did not prove himself to be much better than his predecessor. “Wishing to do the Jews a favor” (25:9), he attempted to get Paul to abandon his rights as a Roman citizen and stand trial in a hostile environment in Jerusalem (25:1-12). In spite of this mistreatment and injustice and immediately after being personally insulted by Festus (26:24), Paul still addressed Festus as, “most excellent Festus” (26:25).
Regardless of what people in the world and even what people in the government itself do, Christians are called to respect those in positions of authority. Both Jude and Peter condemned those who would “reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries” (Jude 1:8; cf. 2 Peter 2:10-11). Jude illustrated his point by describing how Michael, a ruling angel in heaven’s government, “dared not bring against him a reviling accusation” against Satan (Jude 1:9). If ever there was an authority that deserved disrespect, it was “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), yet Michael merely said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
We don’t have to agree with everything that our government does. In fact, Michael’s words would be appropriate if they were uttered to any number of government officials. That being said, we should still regard each government official as “most excellent,” not because of their behavior but because of the position that God has allowed them to take. Among the instructions we are given relative to government, we are told to honor them (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17)
Christians should prepare themselves to seek good. Before encouraging obedience to human government, Peter called Christians “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11). Though part of this was because his particular audience had been dispersed throughout the Roman world (1 Peter 1:1), part of it was because all Christians hold primary citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20). As the hymn reminds us, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”
“Sojourners” quite literally described the Jewish people held in captivity by the Babylonian Empire. If ever there was a wicked nation, it was Babylon; if ever there was unjust treatment, it was the Jewish captivity. Yet, the prophet Jeremiah encouraged Jewish captives to try to live productive and helpful lives in their captivity, building homes, seeking peace, and praying for the city that held them captive (Jeremiah 29:5-7). This is applicable to Christians as well, as Peter envisioned the good conduct of Christians winning over the Gentile world (1 Peter 2:12).
Christians should prepare themselves to supplicate, intercede, and pray with thanksgiving for those in government. As we already noted, Jeremiah told the captives of Israel to pray for their captors in general. Paul likewise tells us that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” but then specifies that these should be made “for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2a). No matter who is in office after the election, we should be praying for them and, according to Paul, thanking God for them. Challenge yourself not merely to pray for the wisdom and wellbeing of government officials, but to consider with thanksgiving how God has used them, in spite of their failings, to bless you in some way.
Christians should prepare themselves to stand for what’s right. Having laid a solid groundwork, I think I can now address the point that comes most naturally to those of us living in America. Christians do need to prepare themselves “to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)? But what does that really mean? While it can involve exercising personal rights as Paul did in Philippi (Acts 16:35-40), it more often means allowing personal rights to be trampled upon as Paul did time and time again (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). It means saving our voice for the things that really matter, such as: when innocent blood is shed (Proverbs 6:17); when widows or orphans are neglected (James 1:27); when foreigners are mistreated (Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 10:19). All of these things are held as being of equal importance by God and are things that people of faith must be equally concerned with (Jeremiah 7:5-7). Of course, it also means never allowing a governmental decree to cause us to stop living for and proclaiming Jesus (Acts 4:19-20).
Christians should prepare themselves to strive for peace. As I mentioned when I began, this election cycle has been colored by particularly divisive language and behavior. However, the aim of Christians ought to be peace. Jeremiah told the Israelite captives to seek peace for the Babylonians (Jeremiah 29:7). Paul said we were to pray for government officials so “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Timothy 2:2), but also so that the Father’s will for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” might be achieved (v. 4). Christians ought never put the value of physical, temporal peace ahead of the value of another person’s peace with God.
If this election cycle has caused you to put up walls between you and those with different political opinions, remember that Jesus came to break down walls of separation (Ephesians 2:14). Ask yourself as I ask myself, whether on social media or in person, how have my words and actions helped those of very different viewpoints than me find peace in Jesus? Have I shown myself to be “a pattern of good works,” and demonstrated among other things “sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say” (Titus 2:7-8)? Have I argued politics so passionately that people have ceased to see me as a peacemaker?
No matter what the outcome is on November 3, I truly hope that we as Christians are preparing ourselves to live out the teachings of the New Testament relative to government. I also hope that we are actively guiding people away from democracy and towards monarchy. We should respect our President and other elected officials (no matter what political party they espouse) and obey their laws as best as we can, but we must never forget that our King is Jesus, His Law is supreme, and our citizenship is in Heaven.