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The Church and the New Administration

November 8th, 2008


“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:20-22)

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For the 56th time in its history, our country has done something that many nations in our world have a difficult time doing. We’ve peacefully chosen a new President, and have two hundred-and-something years of history that leads us to expect an orderly transfer of power. It didn’t take a military coup to elect our new government, and no one imagines an armed struggle in the streets of Washington come inauguration day. Whatever we might wish were different about the United States, that’s pretty remarkable.

Still, I know that not everyone is happy that Senator Barack Obama is now President-Elect Barack Obama. That’s always the case, I suppose; in every election there is inevitable disappointment for the supporters of the defeated candidates and their party. In this election, though, it seems magnified. Maybe it’s because of the historical significance of this particular election. Maybe it’s because, with all the bad news that Americans have heard recently, it seemed that there was more at stake. Voter turn-out was, perhaps, at an all-time high. Apathy, often a component of American politics, was at an all-time low. Whatever the reasons, it seems that supporters of our new President-elect are enjoying a particularly euphoric high, while supporters of Senator McCain are feeling especially low. Supporters have bestowed upon President-Elect Obama something approaching Messiah status. Opponents seem to believe he’s going to bring the United States crashing down around us.

Might I respectfully suggest that both sides seem to be overstating their case?

The fact is that, as of right now, no one knows for sure what kind of a President Barack Obama will be, simply because he hasn’t been one yet. A cursory look at our nation’s history, though, might suggest that the reality will fall somewhere between the heights envisioned by his supporters and the depths imagined by his opponents. In the end, our government is designed to funnel the ideologies and agendas of our President through the filter of “we, the People.” That, too, is pretty remarkable.

There are some things I do know, however, some things I’m confident about. I know them, not because I’m smarter than anyone else, or more prescient, but because I know God through Jesus Christ. For example, my belief in a God who “deposes kings and raises up others” leads me to believe that the person who won the election is someone through whom God will carry out his will. That isn’t a statement about our President-Elect, necessarily; God has chosen to carry out his will for his creation through all sorts of political leaders, good and bad. It’s possible, of course, that he could have used either candidate. But my faith in God tells me that he will use this one to do what he wants in our world.

I know, too, that I’m to pray for world political leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I’m to submit to them and honor them (1 Peter 2:13-16) because I am to recognize that they are in power because they serve at God's pleasure. (Romans 13:1-2) Paul even says that those who rebel against government rebel against what God has instituted. Taken together, the attitude those texts seem to encourage Christians to have toward our President and elected officials is one in which prayer has a far larger place than criticism and hostility. Neither do those texts make honor, submission, and prayer contingent on how much we agree with our government’s policies. We will surely not always agree with our new President, as we haven’t always agreed with our current one. But we must always recognize that God has placed him in his office, and act and speak accordingly.

I also know that God has called his people, from time to time, to speak truth to those in power. Nathan pointed a finger at King David, you may remember. Daniel told Belshazzar that he had been “weighed on the scales and found wanting.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego wouldn’t bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. If they could stand up for what was undeniably right in front of autocratic monarchs, surely in a representative government it’s right to let our voices be heard on what is undeniably right – as long as our voices are respectful and godly.

But as we think about the issues that matter to us, let us not become focused on sexual ethics or personal prosperity to the exclusion of all else. For last couple of decades, Christian involvement in American politics – white Christian involvement, at least – has almost always come down to the issues of abortion and homosexuality. For Americans, in general, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Important issues, to be sure. But there are other important moral issues about which the church should be at least equally concerned. Shouldn’t those who follow the One who fed the five thousand and healed the sick be concerned about adequate food and health care, both for our citizens and the world? Shouldn’t people who worship the God who cared for the widows and orphans care about the overlooked and powerless in our communities today, especially when they are overlooked because of the greed of the rich and powerful? Shouldn’t disciples of the Prince of Peace challenge our leaders to work for solutions to international problems that don’t involve “shock and awe”? Shouldn’t we be as concerned for the welfare of the foreigners among us as God commanded his people to be in the days of Israel?

I know one other thing, and so do you. Barack Obama is not the savior of the world. John McCain wouldn’t have been, either. That office has been filled, that salvation has been accomplished. God himself knew that our world needed saving long before the United States of America was a gleam in our founding fathers’ eyes. And he himself chose to intervene in Jesus Christ and gave himself over to the political leaders of the time. In doing so, he showed that redemption would not be accomplished through politics, power, economic strength, or military might. It would be God’s work, accomplished through love, faith, and grace.

So let’s continue to trust in God, whether your favorite color is red or blue. Let’s pray for our new President. Let’s celebrate that our country was able to elect an African-American Chief Executive for the first time in its history. And let’s continue to be God’s people first, Americans second.

So, “Hail to the Chief.” Absolutely. But first, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”

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