The United States of America is, thankfully, not a monarchy, but we absolutely are heading toward one: God’s kingdom is coming, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
It’s endemic to Christianity in the United States to forget that sometimes, though. In the earliest years of the colonies that would become this country, political rhetoric was steeped in Christian imagery—and religious rhetoric was steeped in social and political activism. Prospective colonists were told that, in moving to the western hemisphere, they were becoming part of the New Israel, the one place in the world where they could live out the Bible’s promises faithfully and triumphantly.
This was good politics, but it was terrible theology.
In very broad terms, the Old Testament traces the story of God’s work in the world through the lineage of Abraham, forefather of the nation of Israel. Abraham and his son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob were each promised that their descendants would form a populous nation through which all the world would be blessed. The New Testament tells the story of Jesus, citizen of Israel and descendant of Abraham, who fulfilled that promise by taking God’s blessing and, through his sacrifice and his followers, scattering it into every country on the planet.
The Christian faith promises that, one day, believers from every nation will live in a restored world, free of entropy and corruption. The Bible calls this restored world “the coming kingdom” or “the new heavens and the new earth.” God’s promised method for working his purposes in the world is not the political machinations of any nation, but his Spirit poured out over all the nations. His promised vehicle for bringing in the new heavens and the new earth is not the success of a particular politician or the failure of a particular party, but the embodied return of a specific individual—his Son.
Our ultimate future does not depend on U.S. politics, state government, or local referendums. This is an incredible promise, but it comes with a missionary responsibility: Jesus commanded his followers to go into all the world and behave like light, helping others to see him more clearly. He told his followers to go into the world and behave like salt, adding savor and richness and generally making the things we touch better. Our existential security doesn’t depend on us doing this well—our salvation is a gift from God. Instead, trying to give the world around us a foretaste of the kingdom to come is how we take part in God’s millennia-old mission to make his blessings felt in all the world.
Put these things together, and Christians in the United States who touch the political system in any way have a responsibility to do so in ways that clearly demonstrate faith in the fantastic promises of the gospel. The next election will never determine your ultimate fate, or the fate of all posterity. How would remembering that change the way you handle a conversation with someone who disagrees with you about the best way to vote? Would you be slower to speak? Quicker to listen? More patient as you try to understand the other person’s opinion or explain your own? Are you capable of being friends with someone even if they would never be inclined to vote the same way you do? If you work in politics, do you enjoy a deep and abiding calm in the midst of your co-workers’ short tempers, high tensions and sometimes apocalyptic panic?
Whether our preferred candidates succeed on election day or our preferred causes fail, Christians need to be consistently humble and generous if we are to be Christ’s witnesses in the U.S. political arena. Our opponents can’t “drag the country to hell in a hand basket.” Our allies can’t “take the country back” or “get us back on the right track.” There is no law you can pass that’s good enough to bring Jesus back sooner; there’s no law that can be bungled badly enough to stop Jesus from returning.