As the Presidential election nears it seems everyone has a thought or two on America’s current political make up. Some would define our current political climate as being too liberal while there are those who believe it is still far to conservative—and I am not talking just about social issues. Yet while the debates ensue the thing that causes most pause in my political thought is faith’s role in politics.
We live in a pluralistic society that wants to believe in equal representation. Yet this is not possible for we do not live in true democracy, but a Democratic Republic. What this means is that we democratically elect someone to represent us. In essence the choice you have is who represents you as your representative or senator. The idea is that a group of people run for office and you pick the one whom you believe will represent you and your values the best. Your vote for an individual says I would trust you to make the decisions that best support my beliefs. This is Democracy in America and we love it—well when our guy wins we do. If and when our guy doesn’t win quickly realize how all that ‘equal representation’ rhetoric goes out the window. As a Representative it is his or her job to represent the majority of the population well. Since he or she won by a majority in a certain region, it means their policies are designed to represent the desires of that majority–and if you are in the minority you might as well forget having a real political voice again until the next election.
It is important that we begin with this lesson in American Civics so we might best understand the proper place of faith in the political process. For much of America’s History America has been represented as a Christian nation, mostly because the majority of the people were. Many of the political policies aligned with Christian values, again only because the people of this nation were made up of a fairly like-minded worldview. Over time the general worldview of the average American has shifted, causing America to be more pluralistic. Thus we see more pluralistic laws being put into place, which represent various majorities. We have seen this shift happen at such a level that it has caused the current President to make the statement, ‘America is no longer a Christian nation.’ This statement of observable truth has caused much outrage among many in the Christian sect. And this is where the civic lesson becomes most important. Just because the foundation of this country was strongly influenced by Christian faith does not mean that it was designed to remain that way. The framers understood a very important principle—freedom of the people, and strong faith in God. The framers we very explicit on what they wanted our founding documents to say, and in the declaration of independence do we find what I believe to be the heart of the framers. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’ This is the faith statement of the framers. Beyond this they understand that there must be freedom of the people because no matter how hard one tries no one can govern faith—we see this understanding played out in the first amendment of the Constitution.
So how much has changed since the framing of the Constitution? Many people would argue there is much that has changed, and not being an expert in the field I cannot truly assess the change, but there are some changes that do come to mind. First is that today there are more freedoms for all people in this country than there were when this country was framed. Most people would not disagree that the civil rights movement and the woman’s rights movement were not bad things for this country. Second is that there are far more sub-cultures that together make up the dominate culture. At the heart of both of these changes is the spirit of human freedom and personal choice—which the framers believed in and expected.
But what does all of this have to do with faith you ask?—Everything! It has everything to do with faith, because at the heart of faith is human freedom and personal choice. Faith must be chosen by an individual. One cannot come to faith simply because it is the law, just as I cannot become a true Badger fan simply because I live in Madison. Faith must always be a choice. You see I could buy the gear, go to the games and cheer them on and still not be a fan in my heart. A Badger loss will never feel like a U of M loss. For many people this is what their faith looks like. They bought the gear, they go to the game, and they cheer God on, but their heart is not in it like it is in other parts of their life. And then you have those who are not at all interested in college sports, they are interested in something else. Just like there are people who could give two hoots about God, yet they care deeply about other issues. They actually think that college sports are the thing blocking or causing harm to their agenda, just as people think the topic of God or religion is getting in the way of their personal concerns. Thus we see a shift in the political environment. For example after the NHL lockout national TV carriers dropped broadcasting NHL games period. Why? Not because they hated hockey, but because it is not what the majority of the people wanted to watch. Again this is the very nature of democracy and it is always great as long as you are the majority.
So what does happen when something that was once the majority drops into the minority? There is often a feeling of oppression, an atmosphere of angst against the ‘oppressive’ system, and a sense of lost freedoms. Thus as Christians increasingly fall into the American minority we have begun to see these things appear in our Christian communities. We have developed an us verse them mentality, we have begun to speak poorly of our leaders, and we complain that this freedom or that freedom is being attacked. Yet we never take the time to see how we were once viewed as the ‘oppressive system’ and in protecting our freedoms we were preventing others from living in their freedom. In the past to live according to the laws of the land was to live in line with the Christian morals. Personal freedom and choice in faith were not as prevalent. But now, now that we are no longer the majority forcing our agenda upon everyone through the laws of this nation we can now offer people a clear choice of faith. You see at the heart of faith has always been personal freedom and choice.
In this time in which Christianity is no longer the dominate religious super power of our age we must begin to ask ourselves some serious questions like: why are there more people who do not want to associate themselves with faith than those who do? Why is the Christian tribe viewed as one of the most oppressive and hate filled peoples of our time? Are you actually ready to live out your faith? You see faith is easy when everyone else is doing it. Faith is easy even when it is a part of civil law. But what does faith look like when the law allows for things your faith clearly stands against? What does faith look like when you are the only one walking against the current? I believe it is in this place faith becomes real. Which action takes more faith? Not stealing because it is against the law or not stealing because your faith demands you not? Or better put yet, not stealing because your faith demands you not, even when the civil law allows it without recourse? This example is not absurd as you might think. Each day there are millions of files stolen across the Internet with zero recourse. Does it not take more faith to live righteously when there is no law than when there is? Does it not take more faith when we have total human freedom? Would not Christianity gain greater creditability if the people who claimed the faith could actually live it out without anyone else commanding them to do so? Would that not grab the attention of many?
Finally I ask my brothers and sisters, those especially concerned with the future outcome of this election, where is your faith? Does not God ordain the leaders of this world? Have you not read first and second Kings, have you not read Ecclesiastes, have you not read Romans 13.1, or John 16.33? We must have faith in the sovereignty of our God even when the outcome is not comfortable. If we truly believed in these verses then there would be no need for political panic in the church. It breaks my heart to hear all the what if’s and the could be’s if our current President is reelected because the majority of these are based solely in fear. We are not a people called to live in fear. This is the VERY HOPE of Christianity—a life with no fear, no condemnation, and freedom in Christ Jesus. What if our political agenda became to choose faith for our own lives verses trying to force it upon everyone else. That could be the beginning of a revolution!
So this election season I encourage you to chose faith in your own life. Please go vote, rally for your candidate—the one that will represent you best because that is what this political process is about. But in doing so realize that everyone else is entitled to their own belief and their own choice of candidate. And if your candidate does not win—please do not cry about it, do not complain about it, do not slander his name, and please do not tell me that it is a sign end the world is coming quickly, because if it were and you truly believed it, and you believed in the reality of what would happen to those people who do not know Christ when it came then the results of this election would be the least of your worries.
Finally do not confuse the loss of religious privilege in this country with the loss of religious freedom. Religious freedom is an inherent truth to existence. No one can take away your right to faith. (This is why the inquisitions worked so well.) They can however take away your privilege, and this is what we have seen in the past years in America—it is a loss of privilege, not freedom. Yet whether we have religious privilege or not in this country we are still called to live a life worthy of our calling. We are still called to be a people of faith, a people of peace, a people of hospitality, and a people of love. If we lived this out—maybe just maybe Christianity would become a part of the majority once again. We would once again begin to see policy that aligns with Christian moral values not because we forced them on anyone but because the people chose first to live out their faith and out of the life of their faith true political representation followed. But political power ought never be the goal or motivation of our faith but only the natural product of the church living out faith and reaching the people of this nation with the true message of Jesus Christ. Remember our founding Fathers trusted personal freedom, and the sovereignty of God when founding this nation—let us not forget this truth in our own life.