No one has sought pastoral counsel from me as the election looms. That does not surprise me. The Roman Catholic faithful seem to value the spiritual guidance of their clergy on such matters: not so Anglicans. Ironically, the very body who united church and state under the monarch of England, seems most willing to divorce the two in our current milieu. Perhaps that is uniquely American.
So, no one need read what follows since no one asked for it. It is likely of limited value, if any at all. I am writing it primarily for myself; writing helps me sort my thoughts. I post it on the off chance that it might help another think through these difficult issues.
We must begin with hard truths, ones which we often dismiss to the detriment of clear, biblical thinking. The United States is not Israel, our President (whoever that may be) is not the son of David, and our god(s) is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are not one nation under God — the motto notwithstanding — but are diverse and separate peoples under many gods and no gods at all. If we do not understand this, we will not understand the nature of governance required of us.
Israel was, from its inception, a theocracy, a people ruled by God. There were many vice regents: patriarchs, priests, prophets, kings. But God was the monarch. This has never been the case with the United States, and it is not now. We can argue over the extent to which the founders envisioned a nation influenced by the Judeo-Christian ethos and ethic, but this always has been a nation under law, under the Constitution, not under God in any meaningful sense. Our most recent Supreme Court nominee is at least clear about that when she insists that her rulings will be based upon a strict, originalist reading of the Constitution and not upon her personal Christian faith.
Further, the multitude of churches notwithstanding, the United States is religiously pluralistic. I would go so far as to say idolatrous. Four gods share sovereignty in our national pantheon: Mars, the god of power and violence; Mammon, the god of wealth and greed; Eros, the god of unbridled sensuality; and Moloch, the god most associated with child sacrifice. We are not Israel and we are not the Kingdom of God; we are a pagan nation in which many Christians live.
What follows from these truths as Christians enter the polling place with fear and trembling?
First, we are exiles — resident aliens — in a foreign and pagan land. Perhaps the most direct instruction on how we are to live as such is found in Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles:
Jeremiah 29:4–7 (ESV): 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Live. Increase and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city/nation. Pray to the Lord on its behalf. I do not believe that either Jeremiah or the exiles held out hope of converting Babylon, of somehow uniting that nation and its people to Israel as god-fearers. Rather, they sought to live undisturbed lives, to worship their God, and to contribute to the welfare of their families and their communities. The rest they left to God. I suggest that this is the way we are to live, though we are also called to proclaim the Gospel not only with our lips, but in our lives.
This is perhaps the most we can expect from our nation now: to leave us alone, to allow us to practice our faith, and to make possible our welfare and the welfare of our communities — all communities. These modest — though challenged — goals will inform my voting. I do not expect — though I pray for — a revival that turns our nation to God. We have had great revivals, of course, but we have always remained a nation under law (Constitution) and not under God. I do not look to a President or a party to lead or promote religious revival.
Perhaps the best we can hope for now is that our nation becomes a righteous pagan nation. What would that look like? It would look like equal justice for all people; care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger; restraint in the use of power; sexual morality; recognition of the deceit of our false gods; respect for and protection of all lives; and freedom for the people of God to practice their faith. It would look like all that Egypt was not before God came in judgment and delivered his people. It would look like all that Babylon will not be at the end.
No one candidate for President and no one political party embodies all these characteristics, promises all these blessings. We live in Babylon (or Egypt) and not Israel. Our President is representative of a political party and not a vice regent of God. And so election decisions are difficult and complex. Many faithful Christians will “get it wrong” in the voting booth — whatever that means — though none of us can say with certainty which ones those will be. Prayer, humility, and faith are required going into the booth. Prayer, humility, and faith are required coming out of the booth. And grace — the grace to accept that faithful Christians seeking to honor God in their votes may reach a different decision than us on which candidate and party will guide the United States in becoming a more righteous pagan nation.
In the end, the nations of the earth — all Egypts, all Babylons — will be judged; Revelation 18 is a sobering prophecy. The United States need not think itself exempt. But, in the end beyond the end — in the end that is no end — there is yet hope for the healing of the nations:
Revelation 21:22–22:2 (ESV): 22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.