Electing People, Loving People, and Changing the World: Understanding the United States Political System
It has now been a year since the last presidential election. This ushers in executive orders on various topics such as: health care, immigration, gun laws, foreign policy and a plethora of other issues. Growing up, you may not have noticed any difference in political changes, but now you are an now an adult. And you may be wrestling with the tension of your faith and your role as a citizen. Prior to the 2016 election, our Editor-In-Chief, Yelena Bosovik wrote a compelling and informative guide to voting. Maybe you did not see the results that you hoped for. Perhaps you did. Maybe you were not yet old enough to cast your vote. Perhaps you regret who you voted for. Or maybe you are still confused on where to stand.
Now, it may seem as if everywhere you go, there are political opinions and chaos. We live in a culture with two major parties and a pressure to choose one. A culture of strong opinions on political figures and with the question of what your place is and how you, as just one individual can even make a difference. I want to invite you to brew a warm cup of coffee and sit with me as we unpack this together. And learn how to take action, step aside when necessary, stand apart from the crowd and disagree with others beautifully.
Do I have to choose a political party?
The short answer is no. Like Yelena mentioned, several of us adopt the political views of our parents, friends, teachers and so on. Some of us have even been taught growing up that God is in favor of one party over another. But Jesus in not an American citizen, nor has his name ever been found on a United States ballot.
Even ancient Israel who were the Lord's chosen people did not have God bending to their agendas. In Joshua, when Israel is guided step by step from God, a divine soldier appears before him. The angel makes it clear that they were following God's direction and not the other the way around:
Now Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." - Joshua 5:13-15
I have often heard the argument that someone has chosen a candidate or party because it is "the lesser of two evils". And we decide which one is the lesser based on which issues personally bother us the most. That is a nice idea, but that isn't how Jesus works. There is no hierarchy of sin where some need the over the counter dosage of atonement and the other needs the heavy prescription dosage.
In 1 Samuel, we see two kings of Israel back to back- Saul and David. Although David is coined, "a man after God's own heart," he has his share of corruption as a person and a king. The difference was his humility to repent.
The reality is that all political parties will have some degree of corruption, as will any government or system run by humanity. The major issues also change over time, as do political parties. There will not be a consistent black and white perfect side to vote for or support, and if everything was black and white, there would be no need for the Holy Spirit.
Throughout your lifetime you will see a revolving door of issues. And sometimes there will be no right or wrong. In fact, most of it will be gray, and you cannot adopt someone else's convictions as your own. Only you can discern your stance- which may even change overtime.
Do I even have a say in what happens politically?
Did you take a U.S. Government class in high school or college just to find yourself learning enough for the test but ultimately not fully understanding the way our government works? If so, you are in good company.
You may have a decent grasp on the constitution, the system of checks and balances and what it means to be a democracy. Understanding the different branches of the government is important in your role as a citizen in between presidential elections. And can potentially make a major impact in the results of a presidential election. For example: in 2000, the popular vote between candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush were so close that the decision was left to the Electoral College who ultimately elected Bush.
What you do understand is that we have a presidential election, which occurs every four years. You may be semi-informed on the issues due to the global hype. But if you are anything like I was my first time voting, you quickly bubbled in your selection for the president, but you had no clue who the other people were.
What is a county clerk, and alderman, a district supervisor? You will see a section to vote for your congressman and your senator who play key roles that several of us fail to realize. If you were old enough to receive a School House Rock education, you see how the bill sitting on Capitol Hill becomes a law starting with civilians to the House to the Senate. Then finally approved or vetoed by the President.
Each citizen is represented by two senators and at least one congressman- both of which you can contact concerning a legal area of your conviction. However, you may find that your state legislative members may be more accessible. You can find them by the district of your county (parishes in Lousiana and boroughs in Alaska) and contact them.
Each state also has its own constitution, which is far more elaborate than the national one. With the exception of a few states, most have a gubernatorial election (election for governor) coming up in 2018. Your state laws will effect your local taxes, traffic laws, education system and road maintenance.
Where should I draw the line with social media posts?
During elections, we often hear groups of people cast their votes. But they apathetically shrug stating that God places people in authority anyway, which is true. This concept is supported in Romans 13:1-2, Daniel 2:21 and 1 Peter 2:13. However, there is a vast difference between the appointment by God and the permissive will of God.
Take a look at 1 Samuel 8. The Israelites have God himself as their ruler with Samuel as a prophet, fully protected, thriving as a nation and yet they demanded a king. The Lord expressed to Samuel that this demand was a rejection of Him and that there would be negative outcomes to this decision. Yet He appoints Saul as king in order to allow the people to have the liberty of choice.
So if our authority is not always necessarily the will of God, are we still obligated to respect them? Of course. In the same way that there is scriptural evidence that authority is divinely appointed, there is clear instruction on respecting authority. But I would present a challenge to take it a step further. Could you resolve to honor an authority as a person?
Think about what you see on social media. There are posts and pictures and articles of people tearing each other to shreds. Dinner table conversations can continue into the night with heated political slander. Friendships end over differences in views.
Typically, we honor people who we like and agree with. But with a political figure, we suddenly give ourselves permission to view them as things. And when someone is a dehumanized, we no longer feel a conviction to honor them.
That isn't how honor works. In the book, "Culture of Honor," Danny Silk states that in such a moral culture, "leaders lead with honor by courageously treating people according to the names God gives them and not according to the aliases they receive from people." When honoring people is one of our core values, the behavior of another individual does not cause us to compromise that boundary.
How did Jesus exemplify operating under an imperfect government?
Jesus Christ was born into the Pax Romana era- a time when there was little war(but high social tension). This was because several nations were conquered by the Roman Empire. And the Jewish people were marginalized and controlled.
Rome was not the first of the Israelites' oppressors. For hundreds of years, they awaited a Messiah who would finally rescue them from these nations. Restore the national rein of the Davidic Dynasty and rule in a victorious political system. The life of Jesus, the Messiah, looked completely different from that expectation.
His mission was not about establishing a government, which would only diminish with time. He was not a zealot rebelling against the Roman authority. When He was challenged by Pharisees who asked him if they should pay imperial taxes, He charged them to "render to Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21) rather than "sticking it to the man because this is a corrupt government and you and I both know that this very coin will feed into their oppressive system."
This sort of movement is courageous. It is like a silent undercurrent that is invisible above the surface but creates a movement. One that looks small. It looks hopeless against a major empire. Looks like choosing fishermen and tax collectors. Touching the outcasts and restoring them back to wholeness. It looks like choosing women to be the first to proclaim the message of resurrection in a time when a woman's witness was unacceptable.
During His time on earth, Jesus never ruled from a velvet throne but served in the trenches. Is there anything wrong with getting involved with politics? Of course not. However, sometimes our social media, our non-profit galas, our protests and our soap boxes can become thrones in which we keep people who are different from us at a distance. Rather than getting in the trenches with them.
Take the example of author Corrie Ten Boom. She lived in Europe under the invasion of the Nazi regime. Instead of loud, vivid protesting, she and her family had compassion on the people whose lives were threatened and risked her own to take them into her home. It cost her freedom, life and family. She ended up in a concentration camp- in the trenches with the prisoners bringing hope. It was messy. When you love people, it is always messy. But it is always worth it.