Despite the brisk temperatures in western New York that November evening, the air felt thick and heavy. Students were huddled together in the dorms and lounges of my small Bible school weeping. Some were offering up somber prayers in muted tones, others simply sat in silence, stunned by the news. Faculty had just informed us that our nation was under siege. Not by communists, terrorists or the latest boy band. Something far more ominous had taken place. Bill Clinton had been elected president.
The villain had won. The hero had lost. God have mercy on America.
By contrast, the Christian euphoria that swept the United States when George W. Bush was elected in 2000 was nearly Tebow-esque. Florida’s hanging chads were all it took to restore balance to the country. Our churches celebrated wildly as Carman’s The Champion played out in the political arena before our very eyes.
This time the hero had won. The villain had lost. God bless America!
Evangelical anecdotes aside, history will attest that our country was neither a utopia nor a dystopia under either president. They both left a significant footprint in our ongoing national march, but neither saved nor doomed us.
In the wake of another closely contested presidential election, very little has changed. The church is once again telling the same story we tell every four years. We don’t seem to be reading a political narrative as much as reciting one. And with each new election cycle, we recite it with increased vigor. It goes like this:
In this presidential race, there is a hero and there is a villain. One will save us; one will destroy us. The fate of America hangs in the balance. For whom will you cast your vote?
We’re not talking about policy or substance or even the faith of the candidates. We’re just rehashing the plot of The Avengers. One candidate will surely rescue us, and the other candidate will be our imminent doom.
Is this really the best narrative the church can embrace?
Granted, it’s a compelling story—it’s just not an accurate one. If there is one thing history teaches us, it’s that politics is more nuanced than finding one man to save the country. Yet we continue to shout the “Our Man is God’s Man” storyline to all who can bear it. Our man celebrates Christian faith! Our man upholds Christian traditions! Read the link I put on Facebook and you’ll see: Our man quotes Scripture!
But we’re living in complex times, and culture is blurring the once distinct boundary lines. Our political narrative stumbled a bit when the the Church nominated a hero from the Mormon Church. We adjusted quickly enough by focusing on morals rather than faith—good men rather than good theology—but still, our decades-long plotline is beginning to show its age.
Perhaps now more than ever, we’re starting to see that our solution can’t hinge on the election of one person. A president can’t save us.
This is an opportune time to rethink the Heroes vs. Villains political melodrama. It won’t be easy to do. After all, this is the tale we’ve been telling since phrases like “moral majority” and “national coalition of Christian” began decorating the rear bumpers of our cars. Nonetheless, it’s time for a change.
The oversimplification of presidential politics is beyond unbecoming for the Christ-follower; it is dangerous. In this narrative, our sole hope rests with one person (who isn’t Jesus); therefore political outrage becomes the point of the spear. We have to win, we have to win now and our faith is sidelined. Debate becomes battle; concern becomes fear; involvement becomes rage.
The sad but logical conclusion in this myopic, all-or-nothing political viewpoint is that the people around us become our enemies. The Lex Luthor candidate we love to hate isn’t the only one guilty of destroying God’s nation. Neighbors, coworkers and, yes, even fellow church members are culpable, too.
But this was never the example Jesus set. He didn’t villainize people; He loved them. Jesus didn’t die to change someone’s politics; He died to change their hearts. This is why Scripture is so thankfully devoid of political hand-wringing. On every page, in every story, God is portrayed as more than enough.
And because God is more than enough, we fight a different kind of battle. Ephesians 6:12 tells us we battle not against flesh and blood. This is perhaps the most overlooked text in the church every fourth November because battling flesh and blood is so convenient—flesh and blood has a name, a face and a sign in their front yard telling us how their beliefs differ from our own.
For the Christian, battle doesn’t begin and end when the pundits announce it’s election time. Our battle is fought everyday as we reject bitterness, decry injustice and undo hatred. This was the model of Jesus. He walked with purpose; He spoke with grace; He forgave with love. And His example should be enough.
At the end of the day, we must realize that politics is not black or white. Truthfully, it’s not even left or right. The political process is a frustrating walkabout in the landscape of gray. And the two candidates we had this fall have dutifully traversed this landscape for years.
In our standard two-party system, neither presidential choice on the ballot is aiming to start a national revival. Neither candidate’s first-term agenda includes “putting Christ back in Christmas.” And neither man will be blasting Crowder through the Oval Office speakers.
Conversely, neither candidate wants to steal all our money, eradicate democracy or loose sharks with lasers on their heads against the general populace. This fits well in the old narrative, but it simply isn’t true.
Presidential politics is about two people who both want you to choose them to serve their country in the best way they know how. They aren’t saviors, they aren’t superheroes; they’re just civil servants.
So let us take a more faith-filled approach following the last year of political turmoil. Let us tone down the expectations and the accusations, and decide instead to approach our engagement with politics in a way that is fueled by hope in Christ.
Remember, the early Church revolutionized the world not because of their great political rallies or shining debate performances but because they chose to live like Jesus every day. That was enough for them.
Could it be enough for us, too?