One of the worst aspects of an election is that it pits people against each other. We start noticing who is with us and who is against. We draw lines and form ranks. Its us versus them.
As we line up to choose sides the candidates lay out their battle plans. Pro-this and anti-that. We (hopefully) weigh the pros and cons and we chose our side.
We select our candidate. We stand united. We rally behind them. We argue as to why they are the most suited to hold office. We applaud their good nature. We justify their bad behavior. And we stand at the ready to defend and fight for their rightful place. This is our normal.
The question I have been wondering this election cycle is, why do we, the church, feel the need to pick a candidate? Why do we feel like we have to take a side? And perhaps most soul searching, why do we feel like we have to baptize our candidate of choice and line them up with our religious beliefs?
This is a concept foreign to many Christians in the world today and for most of church history. Things like democratic elections are still rare when you consider the breadth of human experience and existence. Yet here we are lining up, doing battle, anointing our candidates.
What if we decided we don’t have a dog in the fight? What if we said, you know what, these candidates are so flawed, so disingenuous, so other-kingdom focused, that we’re not even going to bother taking sides?
I believe this is what the early church would do. As the church was being born, first making its way across foreign lands, the Roman Empire held much of the known world and would soon experience great politic unrest. They didn’t hold elections and they didn’t care too much about what the church thought, but I think there is a lesson here for us.
If you would please allow me a moment for a brief history. Just a few decades after the death and resurrection of Christ, the Roman emperor Nero had become so unpopular that the empire turned against him. In response he took his own life, leaving a vacancy for the throne.
In the year that followed, four different men would hold the title Emperor of Rome. Galba would be the first and hold office for seven months. He withheld payment from his soldiers and they in turn killed him, backing the authority of a man named Otho. Otho would take the throne only to learn that yet another man was marching on Rome. This man, Vitellius, would conquer Otho’s forces and be recognized as the legitimate ruler of the empire. That is, until Vespasian arrived from the Middle East and dispatched Vitellius and his sympathizers, and took the throne for himself.
Talk about a crazy twelve months. It makes 2016 look fairly tame in comparison.
The reason I tell you this story is because I doubt the early church, our foremothers and fathers, put much stock in which emperor they supported. I’m guessing they didn’t pass out voter’s guides at the weekly gathering or put signs out in their yards. I am fairly certain they weren’t overly concerned with which one was going to raise or lower taxes and which one had a better economic policy or even which one was more pro-life.
I am positive they weren’t looking to see which candidate would more closely line up with their Christian values. They would have never tried to force one of them to fit their worldview in order to justify their support. I don’t imagine them saying, “Well if you don’t like Vespasian you must be pro-Galba.”
They likely would not have chosen a side. They had no dog in the fight. No horse in the race. Whoever sat in the Roman equivalent to the Oval Office made little difference to the church. I can hear them saying, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
The church didn’t pick sides because no matter who is emperor, Jesus is Lord. They didn’t pick sides because the options laid out before them were unsatisfactory. They didn’t pick sides because the laws the Romans passed had very little to do with how they were called to live. They didn’t pick sides because God already sat on the only throne that mattered.
There is the Kingdom of God and there is the empire of Rome. They are two different realities. The church firmly established that they were Kingdom people. “Strangers in the world,” one writer would say.
Kingdom people have too much to do to worry about who is going to be the next Caesar. In the Roman world when babies were abandoned to die, the church brought them in and built orphanages. In the Roman world when health was fleeting and disease was rampant, the church brought them in and built hospitals and administered healthcare. It was the church who brought in strangers and foreigners and took care of the poor and widows. It was the church who stood against a world full of racism and sexism and classism and slavery. And they did it without petitions or lobbyists or super pacs.
The early church didn’t look for the government to legislate morality or justifiably use tax money. They didn’t look to the government for tax breaks or religious liberty. They looked to Jesus and tried to live faithfully.
Galba. Otho. Vitellius. Vespasian. Why pick a side? We are pledged to Christ.
Church, I truly believe in this election (and probably most elections) we don’t have a dog in the fight. I don’t think it is worth choosing sides. We have the two least liked candidates in our nation’s history and we keep saying you can or can’t be a certain kind of person if you don’t pick the right one.
To be so emotionally invested in picking the next Caesar is a waste of energy. To put our hope in whichever one we think will protect our freedoms the most is dangerously shortsighted. Emperor-to-be Otho promised the world to his soldiers, they put him in power, and then he withheld everything he promised and was forced out three months later. Don’t sell yourself to the highest bidder.
You don’t have to do all the lining up behind your choice. You don’t have to become their champion. You don’t have to justify their every move or attempt to get their world and your world to line up perfectly. Spoiler alert: they don’t fit. You don’t have to compromise your fundamental beliefs in order to pick one of the people desperate for power.
If you objectively study the candidates (and not just the top two) and can vote for one, okay. It is also a completely Christian response to say I can’t choose between these people battling for the throne. It isn’t a waste, it isn’t a vote for the other side, it is a matter of principle.
We are Kingdom people first. Our fight is a different fight. Our Kingdom doesn’t require borders or laws or military or taxes or presidents or elections. We have already made our choice. Caesar can have the throne, the land, the money, the power. None of that matters. Caesars come and go. Presidents come and go. Nations come and go. But the Kingdom of God endures forever.
So don’t worry. Don’t fret. Don’t feel like you have to pick between the lesser of two evils. Pick Jesus. Live faithfully. Love people.
If you feel you must make a choice and just have to put out a yard sign or bumper sticker, go with one that says, “I’m with Jesus.”