With less than 60 days until the 2020 presidential election, who would Jesus vote for? Both evangelical Democrats and Republicans would no doubt claim He would vote for their candidate. Even more, both sides would argue that their political party best represents the values of the Kingdom of God.
Admittedly, there are those who see Jesus as very political. After all, did He not talk about a “political system” called the kingdom of God not being of this world (John 18:36)? A place where He would be King of kings (Rev 19:16)? What is more, does not entering this kingdom require a remarkable level of loyalty? We must: 1) do away with body parts that make us sin (Mark 9:47); 2) give up all our wealth (Mark 10:23); 3) be absolutely committed (Luke 9:62); 4) not worry about our future (Luke 12:31); and much more. Entering the kingdom of God represents no easy task. It demands our undivided attention because it was not Abraham Lincoln nor Ronald Reagan who said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matt 12:25). It was Jesus.
Yet, it is unhelpful to think of the kingdom of God in terms of humanly constructed political systems. God’s kingdom does not constitute a government even though many are tempted to call it a theocracy. A theocracy, just as a democracy, demonstrates a human attempt to design a system of governance. The difference with a democracy is that a theocracy rules by divine right. This system of governance places the power of divine judgment in the hands of a select group of divine representatives; something that we see in Iran, for example. In spite of the fact that the apostles will sit on thrones to judge the tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30), we find no theocratic system of government indicated in Scripture.
Jesus and the early disciples were not concerned about the politic of the day, that is governmental, educational, economical, or social systems. They did not devise a political theology. Their concern landed squarely on the people caught up in those systems. To suggest they were concerned about the systems, or a political theology, makes their mission about changing the system when Jesus’ mission remained focused on God’s glory manifested in the worship of more and more people. When people are transformed then systems naturally transform. So, I hold that Jesus stood apolitical in this regard; not dispassionate about people’s situations especially where injustice ruled. Rather, He wholly focused on His Father’s glory. This embodies the foundation for a Christian movement and our group’s identity. This is manifested in the Christian pursuit of social justice, defense of the faith, and declaration of God’s glory (Rev. 2:1-7).
Democrats and Republicans must be careful on two fronts. First, they must regard “the other” in kindness and generosity. Both sides are not completely wrong nor are they completely right. Neither side exists solely on “truth.” Second, Democrats and Republicans alike must be careful of the manner in which they apply Scripture to their political ideologies. Whether on the left or right of the political spectrum, any form of politicization of faith can, and has, easily turned to a weaponizing of words that inflame and divide the people of God. That does not typify the way of Jesus. Just as Jesus did not identify as a Zealot or Herodian, neither does He identify as a Democrat or Republican. Instead, as Paul reminds us, Jesus shows favor to each, “be to one another kind, compassionate, gracious to each other just as God in Christ showed graciousness to you” (Eph 4:32, my translation). We must endeavor to be like our King aligned with the group He created.
Tertullian (b. 160), writing in the late second century, articulates an early view of the Christian’s relationship to the state. He clearly saw little value. In fact, he understood that such a wedding of Christianity and government was idolatrous:
There can be no compatibility between the divine and the human sacrament (military oath), the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters-God and Caesar. Moses, to be sure, carried a rod; Aaron wore a military belt, and John (the Baptist) is girt with leather (i.e., like a soldier); and, if you really want to play around with the subject, Joshua the son of Nun led an army and the people waged war. But how will a Christian man go to war? Indeed, how will he serve even in peacetime without a sword which the Lord has taken away? For even if soldiers came to John and received advice on how to act, and even if a centurion became a believer, the Lord, in subsequently disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier. No uniform is lawful among us if it is designated for an unlawful action. (Treatise on Idolatry 19)
A mitigation strategy for evangelical Democrats and Republicans; even for the human race.