I spent the first decade of my adult life embroiled in politics. I received a degree in political science, I worked on numerous campaigns and even personally ran for state office all before the age of 28.
My time in politics—spent obsessing about races and running campaigns—was defined by one inescapable reality: You participated in politics, you didn’t shape it.
Every election cycle, especially presidential cycles, was defined by the absence of real meaningful choices. Of course, there would be a lively primary process, but for the most part, “the establishment” would choose and put forward its candidate; and the people would be forced to choose based on what they were given. People participated, they did not create.
Over the last 15 years, with maybe a few exceptions, we have all embraced this kind of simplicity in the election process. The two big parties put forward a few candidates, and then you take your pick. Many of us have been content simply to turn our minds off until November and suffer the consequences that inevitably follow.
It is indisputable that this is election cycle is different. For the first time in a generation, “the establishment” of each political party has been relegated to the sidelines. Men and women who would seem to have insurmountable advantages are now forced to contend with candidates who possess less experience, have less money and seemingly very little broad-based appeal. And we voters have before us a truly diverse field of ideologies and personalities.
Suddenly, and almost without our knowledge, the comfort of the “candidate selection process” has been replaced with the general unease that comes from a genuinely unpredictable choice.
This is causing no shortage of anxiety among those who want things to stay the same, those who have become accustomed to the process. They are unprepared to accept the complexity of democracy.
But we in America have always lived under a complex system of government. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, democracy lends itself to a certain measure of instability. There are times when history pulls back the curtain and we get to see that instability. This election is one of those times.
This situation poses questions for believers: Do we join the hoards of hand-wringers awaiting political armageddon, or do we rejoice with the return of choice? Do we bemoan the complexity, or do we embrace it?
Embrace the Uncertainty
As Christians, we should neither fear uncertainty nor bemoan complexity. Rather, we should be eddies of calm during currents of change. We believe in a God whose very character is described as one who brings order to chaos. While we may feel uncertain, He never is, and the Bible gives us a comforting account of His ability to overcome any difficulty.
This is the God who spoke life into the void of creation and spoke light into the darkness of Jesus’ tomb. He is not confused by the choices that lie before us at the polls, and He isn’t indifferent to the choices we would make.
Christians should embrace this era of American politics in all its uncertainty. We should recognize it as a gift and seize it as an opportunity. God in His wisdom has given the reigns of this country to the people, and for the first time in a great many years, we the people have our hands on the reigns.
We have choice, and we have the opportunity to set direction. For many election cycles, Christians have decried the political direction of our nation, and stood seemingly without power to effect the change we want. But this election is a vivid reminder that God in this time has granted us the power to make political change. While our comfort and our hope do not rest only in the coming of that change, we shouldn’t let this opportunity pass us by.
In order to seize this opportunity, we must also embrace the complexity.
Embrace the Complexity
Citizenship is not a passive experience. This is true of both American citizenship and divine citizenship. Whether you call yourself a citizen of this earthly kingdom or the Kingdom that is to come, that role comes with certain responsibilities.
To the detriment of our witness both as Americans and as Christians, we too often delegate our responsibilities to others. In many churches, parishioners are happy to defer to the knowledge and work of their pastors; and in the state, the public is often happy to defer to the management of their party—whichever party that is. There is a bliss that comes with this level of ignorance, but when we display it, we serve neither the Church nor the state well.
While we rest in Christ, He does not call us to a passive life. Being in Him means that we are to be like Him, to serve, to contend, to sacrifice, and if need be, to die for the truths that set men free.
This active faith, this active life, is not one that shies away from complexity, it embraces it. This faith can hold in contention the fact of God’s holy wrath and His hallowed love. And it can reconcile political differences and intractable positions with the truth that all men are created in the image of God and are worthy of respect. This kind of faith, this civic life, will take hard work and humble effort. But the rewards can only be greater freedom and opportunity in this life to proclaim to others about the life to come.
Surely, that is worth the effort.