Thursday, October 18, 2012

Which Team?

The other day, one friend described another as being "an observer in the system, rather than a participant." He also used the word apolitical. What he was describing, in my opinion, is someone who doesn't choose sides in the election process.

I don't mean that to say he doesn't vote. This isn't about voting or not voting; it's about being invested in the outcome.

I like this image of observing the election rather than participating in it. As I have been wrestling with my own thoughts (and those of others) - and also as I've been thinking about Election Day Communion, I've been trying to put into words the appropriate position for Christians to take in a process such as this.

I don't mean which candidate a Christian should vote for - or even whether they should vote at all. I don't think there's anything more to be said on the matter. Christians of all shapes and sizes will choose what they think most satisfies their conscience.

I am more concerned with how we approach the general topic of power in society, and the process of bestowing power.

I think we need to get beyond the cliches flying around (especially that bumper sticker claiming "God is not a Democrat or a Republican") that seem to put God within our own political processes.

It's most clear with Saul, but it's evident even to the beginning of scripture that God has told us "I'm in charge; I'm your leader - follow me," and we've chosen other leaders - whether it's ourselves, a King, or a President. God has been gracious to grant us our request. God allows us to choose who rules over us.

Of course, that allowance also comes with a caveat - those we choose to rule over us will use us and abuse us and we'll inevitably want someone new, who will do the same thing. When we hear that oft-quoted verse from Chronicles, the healing of the land is not about spiritual condition (at least not exclusively) - it's about proper authority. In times of trouble and great distress, we call to God, but we look to new leaders.

I hope, as Christians, we can look upon elections without giving in to the prevailing narrative that salvation (political, economic, ideological, or otherwise) comes from new leadership.

I don't want to denigrate the ways in which our collective will (that being the definition of democratic government, after all) can produce positive results. But at the same time we must recognize that, as Christ said, there is none good but God - and the collective will of not-good people doesn't ever equal good.

I firmly believe the purpose of the Church, the reason Christ commissioned his followers for a specific purpose is not to save souls. I believe the purpose of the Church is to serve as a community of reconciliation, to be the tangible presence of redemption as God restores creation to its intended purpose.

I believe our call is to model the kind of world God intended all along. Not mistake-free or otherworldly holy, but a messy, dirty, sticky model of how God's love can truly bring about peace.

As a reminder to myself, one prone to be far too involved in places of power, I choose not to vote for President. It helps keep me focused on the task at hand, of loving those around me and trusting in God. It also keeps me from putting too much faith in politicians or from worrying too much about the calamity they might bring.

At the same time, many of my fellow followers of Christ vote carefully and conscientiously. I applaud them. There are so many people, throughout history and around the world, with no say over the conditions of their own lives - our exercise of this privilege can be important.

At the same time, I hope to challenge Christians everywhere to stand outside the system. Favor one candidate over another, sure; make wise choices. But please don't join a team. Don't buy into the name calling and denigration that so inhabits out election process. Don't buy into the myth that a President or a Senator or a Congress or a Supreme Court can be the answer to life's troubles.

I hope we can stand alongside our civil society as the Church, as an example of how to get along with one another. Over time elections have proven better than authoritarianism - perhaps we can demonstrate how holy love works even better.

If you want to vote, please do. If you just can't stomach the idea, don't feel obligated. But be observers of the process and not participants. In the waters of baptism we chose our team - no need to join another.

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