It’s that time again… and happens every four years. With each new election cycle there is one predicable rallying cry that emits from the political stage: “it’s time to take our country back.”
Quite often I hear these words uttered by fellow Christians, seemingly petrified that their individual worlds will collapse if their particular party doesn’t get back in power. Now, in fairness, I more often hear this from the conservative side of the fence- but it’s a cry that’s shouted from both sides even if they use slightly different language to express it.
People are always wanting their country back whether it is the power of one side or the other. Sadly, this desire to control the government is a thirst that never quenches itself- like a carbonated beverage, the more you drink the more thirsty you become, regardless of how much you’ve consumed.
Yet, every few years we pop the top off the bottle and start guzzling as if this time things will finally be different. In fact, it is often Christian leaders– those who should be administering the body and blood of Christ– who essentially substitute the Eucharist for the unholy cola of political power. Case in point: Franklin Graham recently announced that he would begin a campaign to get Christians to run for political office at every level across the country from local to federal, so that we might take our country back. However, even if his plan was successful beyond his wildest dreams I can promise you this: in just a matter of years you’ll be told that we need to take our country back… again.
This is how the unquenchable thirst for power works.
Instead of just blindly following religious leaders off a cliff, Jesus people should always be asking and wrestling with the questions of, “But what did Jesus say about this? What did Jesus do? What example of Christ have we to follow?”
Often it can be hard to get answers to modern questions from the Bible. When we present modern dilemmas to ancient text we often ask the wrong questions of the Bible, expect it to do something it wasn’t designed to do, and often arrive at a place where we can justify just about any position we prefer to justify. However, once in a while we actually do have a one-for-one correlation between modern questions and ancient ones– and this is the case with the whole notion of political power and “taking the country back.”
While the entire concept of “taking the country back” is a misnomer here in the West (it hasn’t been lost), this wasn’t the case in the context of the New Testament and the life of Jesus. Israel actually had lost their country. While they were no longer living in exile in foreign countries, they lived under the brutal rule of foreign tyranny– Rome. They were taxed into poverty, denied human rights, and practically crucified for the entertainment value. In the rare case of a one-for-one example in scripture, the religious leaders of Jesus’ time were actually having this same discussion: how do we take our country back? In fact, they anxiously awaited the arrival of their messiah who they believed would be a political figure who would finally help lead them to take their country back.
But, they got Jesus… and that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus completely resisted the political invitations from the Franklin Grahams of his time– actually living and modeling the opposite– beginning and ending his public ministry by rejecting political power and rejecting it at every step in-between.
At the beginning, Jesus went out into the wilderness where he fasted and was tempted by Satan. What was one of the key things the Devil himself tried to get Jesus to accept? Political power. When asked about taxes, Jesus didn’t join the chorus of complaints, but simply told them to give to Caesar whatever belonged to Caesar. When Jesus talked about the oppressive government authorities he didn’t chart a path to overthrowing them, but said to love them, pray for them, and even carry their bags for them. When he revealed to his disciples that he would be taking the way of suffering and not political power, he was rebuked by one of his best friends. His response? Jesus called Peter “Satan” because changing the world via political power was the same invitation that had been offered by the Devil himself. Finally, when his disciple Judas tried to force his hand and spark the awaited overthrow of Rome, the entire thing blew up in his face as their expected political messiah was led away to his death.
If there ever was a time to talk about “taking the country back” it was the time of Jesus– but that wasn’t anything he was concerned with. Jesus spent his time rejecting political power and instead, invested into building an other-worldly Kingdom where the power-rejectors are actually the greatest. Jesus saw his Kingdom, not political rule, as being the solution to all the ills of earth.
Changing the world via political power will always be a future invitation that never fully materializes. But changing the world through investing in God’s Kingdom? That’s an invitation you can accept and experience right now.
And this is why Christians on both sides of the political coin often get sidetracked: whether we realize it intellectually or not, we have grown to see government and political power as being the answer to the world’s problems– instead of the Kingdom Jesus came to establish.
Unfortunately, it’s not. It never will be. No matter how much power and control we have, it will never be satisfying; it’s all a “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle.
Imagine with me how unified the Church could be if we rejected Satan’s invitation?
Imagine the good we could do with our time, attention, and emotional energy if we diverted it from a quest for power into a desire to serve?
Imagine how many people we could feed, how many homeless we could shelter, and how much clean water we could distribute, if we diverted the potential 2-5 billion dollars we’re about to spend electing a corporate owned presidential candidate, and instead used that money to actually meet people’s needs– right here, right now?
My friends: whether you’re on the liberal or conservative side of the fence may we– people who desire to live like Jesus– resist the Devil’s invitation to “take the country back” as if that’s the missing link to fixing the world. Instead, may we embrace our role in God’s Kingdom– a Kingdom where we don’t need political power or might to begin changing the world.