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Psalm 146:3 offers valuable advice to Christians in America on this Election Day:
in mortal men, who cannot save.
The presidential campaign that is (mercifully) coming to an end today may be one of the most religiously fraught campaigns in recent memory. Typically, Republicans have a lock on the so-called “values voters,” whose church-going habits strongly correlate with conservative politics. But this year, the Republican candidate is reticent about his faith, while the Democratic candidate is quite open about his.
Never before have I seen so much debate among evangelical Christians about which candidate would best advance a biblical, political agenda. Should evangelicals support John McCain because he is resolutely pro-life or Barack Obama because his welfare policies would help reduce abortion? Should evangelicals vote for McCain whose support of the surge is helping wind down the war in Iraq with victory or Obama because his diplomatic overtures to our enemies would better embody the spirit of peacemaking? Does the Bible favor the creation of wealth through low taxes or the equitable distribution of wealth through high taxes? Different Christians—with the same theology and even the same denominational affiliation—will answer these questions differently.
What concerns me is that the respective sides are placing too much trust in their candidates. Indeed, it strikes me that our quadrennial choice of a president tracks closely with Jesus’ words to Simon Peter upon his confession of him as Christ (Matthew 16:13-28). At the start of the president’s term, filled with his—someday, her—extravagant campaign promises, we say to our new president, “Blessed are you!” Four years later, knowing that those campaign promises were empty words, we say, “Get behind me, Satan!” No president is either so angelic or so demonic that he deserves that kind of treatment. He is, instead, an earthy mixture of good and bad, of smart and dumb, of success and failure.
Knowing this—and we do know this, don’t we?—shouldn’t we be more than a bit skeptical about our preferred candidate and his stated agenda? Indeed, shouldn’t we actively interrogate their slogans and point out their real theological deficiencies?
Obama emphasizes hope and change. Hope and change are good things, but they easily become idols in the hands of politicians. “In Christ’s name the nations will put their hope,” Mathew 12:21 tells us. And 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Whatever hope and change a politician can bring about pale in comparison to the hope and change Christ brings. We need to lower the expectations of what Obama can actually do if he’s elected president today.
And what about McCain’s slogan, “Country First”? It too is theologically suspect. It smacks of Stephen Decatur’s toast: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Yes, may our country always be in the right, but this can only happen when we have descralized our nation and obeyed the words of Jesus: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
I doubt either Obama or McCain have thought deeply and theologically about their slogans. And I’m pretty sure that neither have their supporters. In a fit of pique, as I argue with friends about my preferred candidate, I must admit that I too lose perspective and attach more significance to this election than is warranted by the facts. The kingdom of God does not ride on who is elected today, if for no other reason than that we don’t elect God king.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that this election is unimportant. There will be real, measurable consequences in domestic and foreign policy if either man is elected. So, who you vote for today important. Just not all important.
When their [i.e., the prince’s] spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God.
In the eternal scheme of things, a politician’s promises, plans, and policies are as fleeting as his life, and therefore unfit as an object of faith. Go ahead and vote your conscience, then, and may the best man win. But don’t put your trust in him! Only God can save.