"They call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it." - George Carlin
Certain prominent conventions would have us believe that the American Dream is under attack. They would have us believe that our values are being threatened, that our way of life is being threatened. They would have us believe that the preservation of everything we hold dear is dependent on the results of this one upcoming election.
Not only would they have us believe that the American Dream is being threatened, they would have us believe that we must, or should, protect it.
There is an extent to which it matters not who is in office. Whether I find myself subject to the rule of Caesar or Constantine, or Obama or Romney, or Hitler or Mao or Stalin... my allegiance cannot change. I am not saying that tyranny or corruption are to be tolerated, but there is an extent to which we must not be surprised when the worldly powers behave like the world. And while we must engage the powers, we must never do so on their terms.
I pledge allegiance to no flag or country, but to the Kingdom of God. While I admit it is not tenable or possible for me to completely ignore my current national context, the fact remains: my loyalty to Jesus and His Way must take priority over blind nationalism, hymns to the state, and unchecked support of a particular party or candidate.
I acknowledge the Christian voice in the political arena may, at times, become necessary. I acknowledge that the Church is called to prophesy and preach the truth of God's Kingdom. And I acknowledge that we often must advocate and lobby on behalf of those who are hurting, forgotten, or oppressed. But one does not marry the state to engage it.
I can hear the objection now: how then is it possible for you to vote for anyone in this national election?
Well, maybe I can't.
Let me say in sincerity, I don't care who you vote for. Forgive me if I sound apathetic. That is not my intention. What I mean to say is this:
If you, in good conscience, can cast a vote for Barack Obama, good. If you can do the same for Mitt Romney, fine. Or, if another candidate meets your convictions, or if you find yourself abstaining from the entire election process... in all of these actions, and perhaps others, I give you my blessing.
I will not say the election results are of no consequence. But the results of the election are secondary, and in the end, they represent an infinitesimal speck in light of our eternal identities. As the talking heads puff up the importance of this election, as they scare us and threaten us and goad us to fight on behalf of our future, allow me to put things in perspective.
Some platforms never change.
I don't know what will happen with Medicare, or Medicaid, or Obamacare.*** I don't know if those in office will grant money or vouchers or something else. But first and foremost, I will be compassionate to others. I will pursue healing for those who are sick. I will defend the cause of the weak, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed, and rescue the needy (Psalm 82:3-4). Regardless of the official policy of the day, the Church should be known as caretakers of the sick (Matthew 25:31-46). When others are forgetting the sick, we should try to see Jesus in them.
I don't have any solutions for Iran, or South Korea, or anyone else, really. But I do know that notion of "peace through strength" is inconsistent with the Way of the Cross. Peace brought about through military might is no peace at all. The myth of redemptive violence may rule in our earthly nation, but we serve a King Who loved His enemies so much, He died for them. The notion that we can deter evil by using the "full spectrum of our military capabilities," sounds impressive; but when others put their faith in chariots and horses, we put our faith in the Name of our King (Ps 20:7).
Entire foreign policies have been built on the notion that our nation is the greatest in the world. America is the light on the hill. America should take a position of dominance and superiority in dealings with other nations. God causes nations to rise and fall (Job 12:23)... and speaking of falls, doesn't pride often come before one (Proverbs 16:18)? When the first are set to be last in God's Kingdom, shouldn't we run away from the ones chanting, "We're number one!"? (Matthew 19:30 and 20:16 and context)
In regard to border control and public policy, Uncle Sam is free to do what he sees fit. I understand the the need for legislation and process. Of course, the laws must not be unjust, and no one should oppress the alien (Zechariah 7:10). In fact, God's people have always been called to care for the strangers among them, even accept them as if they are one of their own (Leviticus 19:34). The Church should be known as welcomers of the stranger (Matthew 25:31-46). Regardless of who makes it into office, my calling as a Jesus follower will dictate my interactions with others. As one granted eternal amnesty, I can do nothing less than offer grace.
Give Caesar what is his. If his face is on the coin, it must belong to him. But, we must also give to God what rightfully belongs to Him (Matthew 22:16-21). The rich and poor all have this in common, the Lord is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2). I have little control over the tax code, but woe to anyone who seeks to enact evil laws, especially for the sake of burdening the poor and coddling the rich (Isaiah 10:1-5). Money is pretty necessary, but the love of it is evil. Taxes or no taxes, don't let your judgment be clouded. You are His; act like it.
If you live by the sword, you just might die by it. I am called to think of others more highly than myself. Therefore, any rights I may think I have must be tempered by my understanding of my responsibility to my neighbor. Freedom is not intended so we may do whatever we want, but so we may do what is right. Government overlords who take away guns have no place in my view; but you know what else has no place in my view? Opposing efforts to limit capacity of clips or magazines, or fighting efforts to restore the ban on assault weapons. I don't know what legislators will do, but the Church should not be the loudest voice calling for arms. We should be running toward the day when all weapons will be beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4). Second Amendment rights, sure. But the second commandment is like the first: love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).
God helps those who help themselves? Show that to me in the Bible. Go on, I'll wait. Help themselves? Like you helped yourself? Pulled yourself right out of hell by the bootstraps. Oh, that's right. You couldn't help yourself. None of us could. In fact, we needed a Savior. The grace of God shielded you from what you deserve; now you'll make damn sure "they" get what "they deserve." You have been forgiven much; now you will set out to make sure "they" are held accountable for every flaw. So then, the government should fund more welfare initiatives? Give more money to so-called "entitlement" programs? Oh, I don't know about that. Perhaps, perhaps not. But my viewpoint will start with grace, because that is what was given to me. And I certainly will not vilify the poor I am called to serve, nor will I judge them without having known them. When Christian accountability comes into each life, it will not come to fictional welfare queens, but sanctified and growing sons and daughters of the King. Let's start there.
We'll start with the notion that any viewpoint that takes rights away from others which I myself enjoy is flawed. Sinners or not, treating anyone as an outcast or second-class citizen has no place in the Kingdom of God. We'll start with grace again and see where that may lead. I have expressed the viewpoint in another blog post that needs not be repeated here.
*** You'll note this discussion is not exhaustive, and it certainly is not meant to be. In fact, it is quite shallow. It is kind of absurd to reduce all these complicated issues to one paragraph.
I know when I say things like I have said above, people find me out of touch with reality. Do I want real answers for healthcare? Of course! Is there a need for a closer look at immigration reform? Definitely. Are vaguely hopeful statements enough to bring peace in the Middle East? Elsewhere? Of course not. We need to do hard work and employ real strategies. These are all important things.
I am not suggesting that we should make no attempt to change unfair policies, or that the prophetic people of God should avoid speaking out and addressing issues. The Point: regardless of the political climate or current policy, our core commitments as Kingdom People do not change. Our first and foremost should be different than theirs. We must not be deceived, or sidetracked, or driven off course.
Pledge allegiance to the Lamb first. Seek the Kingdom of God first. And yes, that means putting the Kingdom of America second.