Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Let's Stop Looking for a Political Messiah

There was only one Messiah, and He will never be elected to the White House.

At the time He came, there were certain social problems going on, mostly related to pagans dominating the governmental and social spheres of life, lording it over God's chosen people, imposing hated taxation on them, offending their sense of decency and moral values, and threatening their unique way of life with a ubiquitous cultural diversity. They were longing for someone to break the hold of the hated pagan government and to reestablish their own separate identity; to stand against the moral filth that society was bringing to their doorstep; someone to put power in the hands of the righteous once again. And when the Messiah came, He did miracles and healings and called people to repentance, and so some were wondering if He was the one they had been hoping for. But He seemed more interested in criticizing the religious establishment than in opposing the pagan rulers, and eventually they decided that He was not the one they had been hoping for after all, and had him executed. His interrogator asked Him straight out if He were a King, and He replied that He was, but not over a this-worldly kingdom. The people had been looking for a political messiah, and He was not what they were expecting, so they rejected Him.

We may scoff at their blindness. But the lure of a political messiah is strangely attractive. Believers of both the Left and the Right (yes, Virginia, the other side does exist) have too often been enticed into believing that a politician, or a political movement, or a political stance, will accomplish the will of God on earth. The painful, slow way of reaching people's hearts, seeing them change from the inside out; we just get impatient, weary of it. The babies are being killed! the poor are being oppressed! We need to change things now!

But it's a trap. C.S. Lewis has Screwtape articulate the devil's strategy, advising Wormwood to guide his newly-Christian "patient" into one political avenue or another--it doesn't really matter which:
Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the "cause", in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more "religious" (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here. The Screwtape Letters, No. 8
We must face facts. We will never impose the Kingdom of God on this world by force, and if it ever happens that we could actually do it by the democratic process and majority vote, we would find that we hardly needed to. Outlawing abortion or racial discrimination would not be necessary if people simply quit committing these sins. Change the hearts of people and their behavior will change. To the moral, no laws are necessary; to the reprobate, no laws will suffice. Jesus provided for us the model that we find so, so difficult to implement. Strength in weakness. Change society through its most powerless members. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

The real issue is faith. Is our faith centered on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or on Golgotha?

HT: Largely inspired by a good piece by Bob Mitton on making voting a spiritual discipline, casting votes based on careful consideration of the issues, and without regard to the "electability" of the candidate, because when all is said and done, God is still on the throne.

Note: I have published a footnote to this post, in order to correct a possible misunderstanding.


  1. Hi Keith,

    I usually agree with much of what you post, but not this one.

    I, for one, am not looking for a political Messiah when I cast my vote for the best candidate running for office, but I am looking for someone who holds closest to my values and I understand the concept of the Kingdom of God. My home is not here; it is in Heaven. That does not mean that I cannot do my best to make my earthly dwelling a better place.

    As you have stated, when Jesus came His mission was not to overthrow governments; rather, it was to come as a servant and to be the propitiation for our sins. It seems (and maybe I've misunderstood you, so please correct me if I'm wrong) that because Jesus didn't overthrow the Roman government this was somehow a mandate for Christians to be somewhat passive in bettering their society even if they have a democratic process. If that is the case, then I must respectfully disagree.

    Why is it okay to have laws on the books against murder, stealing, drunken driving, beastiality, etc. and not have laws on the books for the murder of innocent babies in the womb or against pornography (which was once against the law) or stricter decency in broadcasting laws (which have been extremely relaxed)? Why is it wrong to want to restore those laws given our democratic process?

    You are right when you imply that Christians should be self-governing; however, even God set in place the law for not only exposing sin but to also be a deterrent, a punishment and a safety to society. Man's heart is continually evil (even in Christians at times) and we need protection from others and from ourselves.

    We can have faith in God while at the same time trying to keep decency and safety in our society. Why must it be either/or? I do not think we have to abandon one for the other. I'm not saying that some Christians have not fallen into the trap described by Mr. Lewis, but since we know that politics can be a trap we should be guarding our hearts from that trap and reminding our brothers and sisters to guard theirs, too.

    Yes, God is still on the throne, but I don't believe what is happening to this country and all over the world is necessarily His will; though, He has permitted what has happened. I believe He has watched as the enemy has crept in while Christians have slept. He has allowed this and we're reaping what we've sown. I don't think God expects us to continue in our state of apathy, but it may just be too little too late.

    Let's say that Christians were able to vote in a godly man; why would it then be any different for this man to lead the way to changing laws to reflect Christian values as they once were? Or would it? As you probably know, the laws that have been changed for the worse have been done by judicial fiat and not the will of the people. What is so wrong with us trying to regain what we've lost? Look how much harm has been done in both the christian and secular circles with such changing of the laws.

  2. Hi Dawn,

    Thanks for reading, and for a well-argued comment. No need for total agreement here--I'd be afraid if I got it!

    Your point is well-taken. I'm not advocating for a retreat into political indifference or nonparticipation. I've argued elsewhere, please do vote for the candidate you believe best represents your views. And that includes moral views.

    But the primary war to be waged is not on the political front. I think that many Christians have forgotten that. Christians transformed the Roman Empire despite the fact that they were politically powerless. This doesn't mean they were passive. Quite the contrary. They were working through other means. Prayer is not doing nothing. Evangelism is not doing nothing. Living an exemplary life is not doing nothing.

    And political action is not doing nothing. The problem comes in the compromises that are inevitable in the political process. If there were a party that represented the Christian position fully, I would wholeheartedly advocate political action for that party. But none exists. Instead, the Christian Right and the Christian Left each want us to ignore half of the social aspects of the Gospel in order to support their agenda, some of which (in both cases) has nothing to do with the gospel at all.

    For example, Mike Huckabee is probably the most solid social conservative candidate out there (I say this neither as a Huckabee supporter nor as a detractor), but gets lambasted by the conservative media as a "liberal," largely because he hasn't forgotten the poor. Yet this is the same conservative media that will tell me, as November approaches, that I as an evangelical should give the Republican candidate my vote.

    Bottom line: God could have sent an Emperor. Instead He sent a Carpenter. Perhaps we're supposed to build, rather than rule.

  3. We'll have to agree to disagree. There is much I could say, but won't. One thing I would like to make clear is that I was not in any way suggesting that prayer, proclaiming the gospel and living an exemplary life is doing nothing.

    Take Care,