As I write this, people are voting. Every major news organization seems to have the good sense to avoid equating exit polling with delegate predictions. Barring a nightmare like 2000, when you read this, we will have a new president-elect. I don’t know who it will be. I dumped my tea leaves in the trash along with my enormous pile of election mail. I’ve already voted. And like a lot of people I didn’t like my choices. I however did not vote for the lesser of two evils. Somehow I’m just not sure that’s what Jesus would do. I also don’t think this election is any more spiritually important than the last election. They are all spiritually important.
What I do find interesting is the political landscape for Christians in the 21st century looks remarkably like the political landscape of first century Jews. I’ve been reading a cutting-edge commentary on Church and State . . . from 1956. Oscar Cullman writes about Jesus’ navigation of the political landscape of the 1st century in The State and the New Testament.
Cullman vividly describes the political landscape Jesus walked into. There were two major parties and everyone was concerned about religion and politics. Cullman says that the disciple of Jesus had to resist two different political movements: the Sadducees and the Zealots (He sees the Zealot party as the most radical wing of the Pharisees).
The Sadducees, assented without reservation to . . . every excess of executive power on the part of the Romans . . . since these Sadducee collaborationists had no genuinely religious, theological program, but only a political one.
On the other hand there were the Zealots, as the extreme version of the Pharisees who:
… could oppose the Roman State only on pure negative terms. In view of their theocratic ideal, they had to renounce the State unreservedly.
The Zealots believed the culture war wasn’t just a metaphor. They not only preached a holy war, they prepared for it.
There was tremendous pressure for Jesus to identify with one of these parties. The Pro-Roman Sadducees questioned him about the resurrection. The Anti-Roman Pharisees questioned him about what taxes belong to the State. And Cullman notes with irony that Jesus was sentenced by a Pro-Roman mob as an Anti-Roman Zealot. Yet as Cullman notes:
Jesus and the emergent Christianity never joined in this unreserved submission to the Roman State
or the fervor of the Zealots. The “emergent” is my emphasis I couldn’t resist the emphasis on the emergent Christianity resisting reliance on the state for well . . . anything. Oh that the new emergers would be as wary.
(You read into this analogy any particular presidential candidate or party at your own peril . . . I voted but probably not for who you think).
The point is that Jesus neither favors nor fears either party or the Roman State that would kill him. He pals with Zealots and Pro-Roman tax collectors. And he chastises both. In Luke 22:25, Jesus uses a little SNL style satire to describe the ruling powers that be:
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors.
They called themselves benefactors on the coins of the realm that they confiscated at the point of a spear. Now that’s irony. Jesus stubbornly refuses to be pigeon-holed, type-cast, or stereotyped. And he endorsed no one. He wasn’t a community organizer. He didn’t register voters, he trained disciples. He didn’t protest the lack of government aid, he fed 5,000 people. He didn’t demand universal healthcare, he healed the sick. He didn’t rail about a woman’s right to choose, he just warned us it’s better to wear a millstone as a flotation device than harm one of his little ones. And in the centuries following his departure, his disciples were bringing home and raising abandoned babies (their solution to infanticide), founding hospitals and freeing slaves with their own money, often at the expense of their status, as well as their income, and in some cases their lives.
I just can’t imagine Jesus having any anxiety whatsoever at the turning of some political appointment. I can’t see him crying over the new Roman governor that was appointed or biting his nails over a super-majority in the Roman Senate (n fact, the Roman Senate and pagan culture were strongly opposed to Christians from the beginning). Prophesying and denouncing the evils of the world, yes. Thinking that any part of the solution involved some magic ruler keeping Jesus’ seat warm till he and the father decide to rule themselves–not so much.
And I can’t imagine Jesus allowing his disciples to do the same thing. Maybe Matthew the formerly Pro-Roman bickered with Judas or Simon the Zealot every time Pilate made a new edict. Perhaps they would have had the equivalent of dueling myspace pages and bumper stickers on their donkeys. But I can’t imagine that Jesus would think it very important compared to healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and preaching the good news. And I can’t ever imagine any of them thinking that some Roman authority held the future of their children in his hands. Or if they did, the real messiah probably quickly showed them otherwise. “Let’s see their government authority raise the dead!”
So after reading Cullman, I’ve been trying to think about what’s our role as Christians in the new regime. My first inclination is to recall the words of the Who from their cynical masterpiece, “We Don’t Get Fooled Again” which, if you haven’t heard it, is one the many opening themes for the C.S.I franchise.
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
I’m trying to think of what the Christian equivalent is of “pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday” The line connotes going on about one’s life in freedom. I think implied in the image is “Thank goodness I can still get on my guitar and play–even with all this change” Who knows what would happen if “THEY” came for the guitars as well?
So the question is what is the Christian analog to “pick up my guitar and play”? For the most part, I will leave that to readers who can comment. (When I look at the slim comments I sometimes feel like a stereotypical nagging mother, “you never write, you never call.”) But I will say this, I got up this morning. I prayed for the same things I did yesterday: my son Wesley to grow in virtue and wisdom, My wife to have wisdom and patience raising the toddling giggle monster, and for myself to trust God today just like yesterday. Actually more than yesterday since my trust this week has stunk worse than Ben Affleck doing Hamlet.
What would Jesus do? He would go about his father’s business. That’s what we should do. And as for getting on my knees and praying? Tonight as I go to bed long before I know who won this little exercise of democracy, I will pray that the new regime protects our freedom to do what Jesus commanded us to do. I think Paul gives us some idea of what to pray for 1 Thess. 4. The whole passage from 1-12 is quite stirring but here’s some highlights with ellipses:
Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. . . . For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable . . . Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other . . . Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to shut off this election coverage and do something useful . . .
I heartily agree. While our voting is a very important right and privilege, we do no good grousing about election results (or even, especially perhaps, reveling in them, if they are to our favor). We must change what we can change and do what we can do, in the Name of the Lord. Thus, we vote and then we get on with our lives. What we can do for and with the people around us may be more important than the leaders in far off Washington.
I think it is more important what we can do than what we can cajole washington into doing, but it may mean we have to modify our 20th century efforts to preserve some kind of culture in America by changing the laws. It may mean living a culture in spite of the sausage making process that is legislation.