The Church and Political Endorsements

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When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!” But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” ~ 1 Sam 16:6-7

During the 2015 election in Nigeria and more recently the American election that returned Donald Trump as president-elect, discussions have inevitably risen around which candidate the ‘church’ should support.

When the Church crosses the line into open partisanship as it did, whether in the case of CAN which was clearly in support of Goodluck Jonathan, or the White Evangelical church in America which supported Trump, it appears to me that we make an error of judgement based on some misunderstanding of the principles God applies in dealing with this sort of issue.

I think we may be wrong to conclude that a particular candidate is God’s choice simply because he is  a nominal christian or represents the platform that agrees more with our values.

Fundamentally, it is important to realize that the rulership that God calls us to in this age is not primarily political. A reading of the gospels, and Acts makes it clear that the followers of Jesus at that time mistook his kingdom for a partisan one as much as his followers today do.

In a burst of political fervor, John 6:14-15 records that in a particular place, when they saw the miracles that Jesus was performing, they wanted to take him by force, and make him king. Some of his disciples also mistook the kingdom he spoke of as an earthly one, and lobbied for positions in that kingdom (Luke 9). They were so taken by this idea that when he told them to go wait for the power of the Holy Ghost to come upon them, they could only think of it in the context of assuming political power in Jerusalem.

In one of these meetings he told them not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them in fulfillment of the Father’s promise, a matter he had previously discussed with them. “John baptized you with water,”[b] he reminded them, “but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit* in just a few days.”And another time when he appeared to them, they asked him, “Lord, are you going to free Israel from Rome[c] now and restore us as an independent nation?”“The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know.But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection.” ~ Acts 1:4-7

I find that just as the early disciples literally thought Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government and assume leadership of the Throne of David, and appoint them into high offices, the Church today often assumes that our call to kingship (Ye are kings and priests) literally translates into political authority.

The reality is that, then and now, Christ speaks of a different kingdom. One that is rather informal but irresistibly viral. He said,  “ …The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” Matt 13:33.

Does this mean that Christians are not to participate in governance? No. Not at all. We are called to permeate society. We are to enter into every sphere of human endeavour that is redeemable, and shine as light therein to banish darkness, and bring glory to our God. This does not however translate into this frequent search for the Christian candidate, as though the kingdom of God is some helpless, and pitiable offshoot needing the protection of a benevolent state.

Nooooo. The church marches on, says the bible and even all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.

 You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build my church; and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever doors you lock on earth shall be locked in heaven; and whatever doors you open on earth shall be open in heaven!” ~ Matt 16: 18-19

Jesus talks of building his church on truth and people. He promises to hand the keys of the kingdom to those people, and permits them to lock and unlock ‘doors’ as they choose. This doesn’t sound like some weak movement of people looking for some benevolent leader, even if they have to risk their entire reputation on account of such a leader’s very questionable life.

While God has never told me which political candidate he wanted in power, I do  know that his schedule for history proceeds without let. Truth is, God raises and deposes rulers to fit his agenda. When Jesus’ parents were returning from Egypt after going on exile to escape Herod’s mass murder, they realized that the new king was Herod’s son and in fear decided to settle in Nazareth. In reality, Herod’s son was only king because God had previously ordained that Jesus was going to be a citizen of Nazareth. In essence, one significant reason Archelaus got to be king after Herod was because Jesus had to be called a Nazarene.

So he returned immediately to Israel with Jesus and his mother. But on the way he was frightened to learn that the new king was Herod’s son, Archelaus. Then, in another dream, he was warned not to go to Judea, so they went to Galilee instead and lived in Nazareth. This fulfilled the prediction of the prophets concerning the Messiah,

“He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matt 2:21-23

Truth is, at the critical junctions in History when God acts directly to sway the choice of leaders for a nation, his considerations are typically not the same as we would make. Believers must therefore be careful to not fall into the error of judgement that a renowned prophet like Samuel made in assuming that Eliab would be God’s anointed when he was not.

Unless God specifically instructs the choice of a candidate, it is safe for believers to vote the candidate of indisputable character. Where neither of the leading candidates offers this opportunity, avoid the pressure that others will mount on you to just pick the lesser of the two evils. We may withhold our endorsement of either, trusting God to work out his will rather than working out ours.

When asked whether the dead bones can rise again, Ezekiel said, only you can say Lord. In other words, I defer to you. Where we have no clarity,  I suppose it is best to defer to God.

Twitter: @woleolabanji

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