I remember when I thought Barack Obama was going to save our country. Back in 2008, I was running around Duke Divinity School trying to register everyone to vote. I remember being confronted by a hipster snob who said that voting was stupid and we should focus on organizing in our local communities. I guess I’m that hipster snob now. Mostly I’m just weary of messiahs. I’ll probably vote for Bernie Sanders whenever Louisiana gets its turn to weigh in, but I don’t think he can save our country.
I do think we need a completely different imagination for how our society can live together. For almost all of my life, the United States (or at least my white middle-class tribe whose ethos dominates the political imagination) has lived under the Reagan consensus, regardless of which political party has controlled the White House or Congress. I sympathize with the basic intuition that power should be decentralized and that solutions for poverty should be personal and community-based. I would have complete respect for a libertarian family who decided they wanted to open their homes to homeless people instead of trusting state agencies to provide for them. I would have complete respect for a church that devoted half of its budget and real estate to servicing a free health clinic for people without insurance. That’s what the kingdom of God looks like. I just haven’t seen things like that happen.
The problem is that we don’t want to pay taxes for the government to help disadvantaged people in our communities and we also don’t want to help them ourselves. Though many Christians say the government shouldn’t help the poor since that should be the church’s job, very few churches have time to do more than a handful of mission projects each year. Each of us has maybe an hour or even a few hours to give once a month to community service work, but the bulk of our lives are spent pursuing achievement in our careers and on the soccer fields of our children. And when we do serve other people, it’s all part of this overarching agenda of achievement. It’s so that our kids can have something to write about on their college admission essays.
Jesus was supposed to take care of all this by dying on the cross for our sins so that we would stop needing to prove ourselves. I don’t understand why so few Christians actually live under the grace that is supposed to be our salvation. I’m not saying that I do. Most of my sin is a direct result of my enslavement to meritocracy, my relentless need to achieve in my ministry, my writing, and my children’s activities. That’s why I don’t have any time to help Lazarus outside of my gate (Luke 16:19-31).
In any case, I’m not very invested in the presidential race. I may share a few articles from time to time. But what I really care about is helping other Christians to gain freedom from meritocracy. We may not be the only ones whom the world needs saving from, but we do need to ask Jesus to save the world from our lack of grace and failure to love our neighbor in the rabid pursuit of our personal achievement. If all that distinguishes Christians from other people is that we’re more competitively moralistic overachievers, then our salvation has completely failed to take root. If we could actually live under grace, we would become relaxed, generous, compassionate peacemakers. I’m not sure how to become this way, but that’s what I care about more than who our next president is.