How Should We Then Live after November 9 (and Now Too)?
How should Christians live when we wake up on November 9 and this contentious presidential campaign is over? Obviously not everyone will be happy with the outcome of the election. But what would holiness look like for Christians after Election Day?
Let’s begin by looking at some verses from Luke 10:
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.’” (vss. 1-3)
Those verses tell us who we are: we are laborers in God’s harvest field. And they tell us what to expect: opposition from unbelievers.
“‘The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.’” (vs. 16)
In other words, don’t take attacks upon your faith personally.
“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” (vss. 17-20)
The lesson there is that we should not rejoice when things are going well for us. We should not put trust in power. We are but servants of God and man.
Forty years ago (1976), televangelist Jerry Falwell led a series of “I Love America” rallies around the country to raise awareness about a number of moral and social issues: abortion, sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, support for Israel, prayer in schools, etc. Three years later (1979) Falwell and a number of other evangelical leaders founded the Moral Majority. It took off, and for 11 years or so was one of the largest conservative lobby groups in the United States. At its height, it claimed more than seven million members. Other organizations joined hands with it, like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Phyllis Schafly’s Eagle Forum, Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, and others.
The Moral Majority was a dominant force in US politics and religion in the 1980s. It organized opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and various socially liberal efforts by the Democratic Party and actions of the Supreme Court. Its influence was enormous. Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Reagan in 1980 and 1984. In 1988, Pat Robertson got 9% of the national Republican vote in the primary held that year.
But with declining donations and a growing belief that America was in pretty good shape, Falwell disbanded the Moral Majority. At a meeting in Las Vegas in 1989 he declared, “Our goal has been achieved…. The religious right is solidly in place and…religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration."
That “duration” did not last long.
What happened to the influence of the Religious Right? I believe that Ian Tuttle, a writer for National Review, said it best: “The Religious Right became more right than religious" ("The Religious Right's Demise," November 7, 2016).
I was pastoring churches in Missouri and South Carolina during the Moral Majority years. I was at the meeting of our denomination’s General Assembly when Francis Schaeffer spoke about the need for Christians to be more outspoken and involved in politics. I sat on the dais next to Phyllis Schafly and led in prayer at a rally for conservative Christians. I went to Washington in 1997, shook the hand of Newt Gingrich, and attended a dinner and met Jack Kemp, J. C. Watts, Jerry Falwell, and a number of other leaders of the Religious Right. In 1993 I rode a bus to Washington DC and joined millions of other Christians in protest of Roe vs. Wade.
I say all that to show that I’ve had some first-hand experience with the Moral Majority mindset. I had a lot of hope back then that things were finally going to change in America. But America looks very different today from how it looked just 40 years ago. We have lost and are losing on nearly every front for which Christians organized and fought back in the day.
What should this experience teach us? What have this year’s presidential campaigns taught us? I think the main lesson for us as Christians is that winning is not, has never been, and should never be, the goal of the church. Our goal is not to elect a Christian president or have a Christian America. In fact, Jesus has guaranteed that we will always be people in exile, strangers and pilgrims, a persecuted people, “lambs in the midst of wolves.”
Our goal is the advance of the gospel. It’s the gospel that changes hearts, not political action committees or new laws or even having a believer in the White House.
If you watch a lot of news and read many blogs and Facebook posts, you've seen the message being sent out into our society by many Christians: “Our rights are being taken away. Our voice is being suppressed. Our values are being thrown out the window. We’re being treated unfairly. The election is rigged. The media is against us. We need to take America back. We need to stand up for ourselves. We need to fight back against those liberals.”
I’m not saying Christians should not get involved in politics. Thank the Lord, we have a political process in which we can and should participate. But the anger, criticism, meanness, and division that have characterized so many Christians this year is wrong and has done damage to our integrity and to the gospel. If we spent half as many hours helping the poor, getting to know our neighbors, teaching our children, sharing the gospel, serving our churches and encouraging each other as we have spent talking about this election and watching the news, our communities would be a different kind of place to live in.
Christians in New Testament times lived in a far more pagan culture than ours. When you read about the early church in Acts, what did they do? “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer.” They opened their homes to each other. They cared for the marginalized and friendless. They visited prisoners. They went about preaching the gospel and doing good. They chose suffering and persecution. You know what Paul’s message to the early Christians was? “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Ac 14:22).
To be honest I don't know how I’m going to vote this year. My absentee ballot has been sitting on my dining room table for weeks. But this I know: “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor 10:4). Politics never changed a single human heart. The psalmist said, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psa 146.3-4).
Have we forgotten that most of the Supreme Court justices that approved Roe vs. Wade were appointed by Republican presidents? Do we remember how often we’ve been disappointed by supposedly godly, conservative, evangelical leaders?
We need to remember that there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God. While it is right and good for Christians to seek the manifestation of the principles of the Kingdom of God within the kingdom of man (think of William Wilberforce who sought to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire), we mustn’t confuse man-made government with the invisible Kingdom of Heaven, or man-made law with the gospel. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” says Paul in Philipians 3:20. Except for theocratic Israel before the coming of Christ, this world and its kingdoms have never and will never equate with the in-breaking Kingdom of God. The Church will always fall outside the margins of earthly governments. In following Christ we will always walk across the grain of the culture we find ourselves in, whether communistic or democratic, secular or theistic. There will never be a Supreme Court, Senate, Congress, Legislature, Governor, or President that works for or speaks on behalf of the Kingdom of God.
I am glad we live in a nation where we can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and speak out for our convictions. Nevertheless, we don’t need Washington D.C. or the State of Florida to protect our religious liberties. One day, more than our tax-exempt status may be taken away. In generations to come Christians may be arrested, imprisoned, and even killed for their faith. If that should happen, we should emulate the apostle Paul, who sang hymns at midnight while shackled to a prison wall.*
Going back to Luke 10, Jesus tells us not to rejoice when things go our way. We were never promised victory or power. Instead, we were promised persecution and trouble. In the midst of an angry, ranting, godless culture we need to be the kindest, calmest, most loving, most merciful people around. James 3:17-18 says, "The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:2-12)
Instead of ranting on Facebook, instead of fretting yourself into an early grave, instead of becoming an obnoxious churl, and instead of moving to Canada after the election is over, invite a neighbor or friend over for dinner, take a walk, write a book, spend time with your kids, meet someone for coffee and tell him why you believe in Jesus, pray for revival. This election, as contentious as it is, could actually be the best thing that could happen for the church, if we learn from it that our hope is in the Lord, and if we begin again on November 9 “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:12-14).
* Thanks to my son-in-law, Scott Castleman, for some of the words above.
More in Pastors' Blog
September 26, 2017A House Divided Over Taking A Knee
February 25, 2017The Shack
October 24, 2016How Should We Then Live after November 9 (and Now Too)?