***Today Reformed Margins is pleased to publish this guest post from Ekemini Uwan. The article was first offered as a lecture at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. Ekemini is a Westminster Theological Seminary graduate. She is a writer, speaker, and teacher. You can find more of her work at sistamatictheology.com.***
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’ Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that, and he has lifted them up.”
“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]— I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
“I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak.”
“We need law and order. If we don’t have it, we’re not going to have a country. African Americans and Hispanics are living in hell. You walk down the street and you get shot. [There are]“gangs roaming the streets” and “African American communities are being decimated by crime.”
“They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators,’ no conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
By now I’m sure that you all have figured out that the quotes I’ve read came from the mouths of the Democratic and Republican candidates running for President, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Two of these quotes were said long before either candidate began a Presidential bid. But even the comments from the past call the present character of the candidates into question. Additionally, their statements reflect their disposition toward those who are unlike themselves.
So, what are Christians to do in light of this contentious and unprecedented election cycle full of dog whistle politics, blatant racism, sexism, and misogyny? Do we retreat? Cry MARANATHA! And put our heads in the sand? Or do we engage, stand firm, and cast a vote in the election next week? How do we proceed?
My hope today is to encourage us to choose faith over fear and hope over hopelessness.
The title of this article is “Common Grace, Co-Belligerence, and This Lamentable Election Cycle.” I know the title seems a bit bleak, but lament doesn’t preclude hope; it requires it. So let’s look for traces of hope in this election by briefly examining both common grace and co-belligerence and what it means for this election cycle.
Genesis 1:26-27 says,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”.
According to Genesis 1, God made all people, male and female, believers and unbelievers, in the image of God. But, Paul reminds us, the Fall ushered sin, death and misery into the world. Adam’s sin was imputed to all humankind.
And yet sin, regardless of how it manifests, does not remove the image of God from men and women. The doctrine of common grace teaches that God has bestowed His grace upon all people regardless of their standing before him. What is meant by grace here is that it is common and not to be confused with the special saving grace which comes through the Holy Spirit and is redemptive, saving us from our sins. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “your Father who is in heaven…makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” God is good, gracious, and patient with all.
Common grace also restrains sin in individuals and in the world so that neither exhibit the maximum degree of sinfulness to which they are capable. Consider Genesis 20, when Abraham deceived king Abimelech by telling him that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. King Abimelech took Sarah into his harem, but surprisingly, he did not have sex with her and verse 6 tells us why, “Then God said to him [him being King Abimelech], “it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore, I did not let you touch her.” Although Abimelech was an unbeliever, it was God who restrained him from committing sin.
Another aspect of common grace is that even though the hearts of unbelievers are unregenerate, they are able to do good works in the world and make significant contributions to society on the whole. Cyrus was a pagan king who did not know God, yet 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 records Cyrus’ proclamation saying, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’” This is a clear example of God “turning the heart of the king” as Prov. 21:1 and Ezra 6:22 recounts, in order to accomplish His will, which was to bring Israel out of exile, so that they could respond in faith and obedience to the Davidic covenant by rebuilding the temple. This is common grace at work.
Common grace, then, is the foundation for the Christian’s engagement with the 2016 election. Remember that government is instituted by God (Rom. 13: 1-2). God uses governments to establish order in society and prevent lawlessness from taking hold within the world.
I know that from our vantage point, and in light of corrupt laws and corrupt politicians in office and currently running for office, it seems that all is lost. But America and the world is STILL not as sinful and depraved as it could be. Do not forget, God can, and often does, use crooked sticks to make straight lines. God, in his kindness and mercy, has bestowed common grace on humankind and this world. God is still in control. This truth ought to give us hope and encouragement as we grapple with the uncertainty of this election.
Now that we have established what common grace is, we can examine co-belligerence.
Common grace is the foundation of co-belligerence. It is a method of engaging with social and political issues heralded by many theologians, including Francis Schaeffer. When he spoke about Protestants working in tandem with Roman Catholics, he said this:
I have two words which I would recommend to anybody…and they are “ally” and “co-belligerent.” An ally is a person who is a born-again Christian with whom I can go a long way down the road…now I don’t say to the very end, because I’m a Presbyterian and I might not be able to form a church with a strong Baptist…but we can go a long way down the road—and that’s an ally. A co-belligerent is a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position but takes the right position on a single issue. And I can join with him without any danger as long as I realize that he is not an ally and all we’re talking about is a single issue.
Many Christians—knowingly or unknowingly—practice co-belligerence when they unite with Atheists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and other unbelievers over the issue of abortion or traditional marriage. The question the church needs to answer is, “Why not use co-belligerence when thinking about voting in the election next week instead of retreating?”
Evangelicals are known for being single-issue voters and that single issue has been abortion. It’s clear that neither of the candidates are pro-life. Even the Republican candidate who claims to be pro-life has a history of pro-choice rhetoric. At the very least, that should make us question his recent pro-life stance, which is suspect at best and politically expedient at worst.
Now, there are other pro-life issues that extend beyond abortion that will have real life implications for our neighbors whom we are commanded to love. Some of those issues are immigration, the North Dakota Access Pipeline, paid family leave, and police brutality to name a few.
A practical implication of what it means to fulfill the second greatest commandment, which is “to love our neighbors as ourselves” (Mark 12:31), is to enter into our neighbors’ world and consider the legitimate fears and concerns they have about their lives and the lives of their loved ones in light of this election.
This is what Christ did. He left His Father’s side, entered into this fallen world, wrapped Himself in flesh and became like one of us. Taking on our sins, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. Then He rose with resurrection power and now we are redeemed. What love! What compassion! And we, Jesus’s disciples, are called to lives marked by compassion and love. Compassion has legs and it moves us to enter into the suffering of others by following in the footsteps of our Compassionate God.
So how do we proceed in this lamentable election cycle?
The election is less than one week away, what do we do? I offer three suggestions:
- Let us heed God’s warning through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 8:12: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” There is much talk of rigged elections, and insiders conspiring to steal the election, which undermines confidence in the system. Ultimately, what it communicates is that we don’t fully trust that it is our Sovereign LORD who put these candidates before us and is the ONE who puts one candidate in power over the other. We mustn’t indict God, but entrust ourselves to Him while voting in this election.
- Inform yourselves about the issues that impact your neighbors; not just the issues that concern you and yours. This is also what it means to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile…for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). This means learning about the candidates down the ballot who are running for the Senate, Attorney General, and Congress. You can go to www.vote411.org, input your address, and all of the people running for office and the propositions on the ballot in your State and district will appear. They show the opponents side by side and where they stand on the issues. I’d also suggest doing additional research on the candidates and issues if you are willing and able.
- Interrogate your conscience through the sieve of God’s Word. Test it. Proverbs 3:5-6 does NOT tell us to “Trust in your conscience with all of your heart,” it tells us to trust in the LORD! I’m here to tell you that your conscience is not ultimate, and it does lead us to err even when we strive to ensure that our conscience is clear before God (Acts 24:16). When we use our conscience as the final word on our engagement or disengagement with this election, we discount the noetic effects of sin, that is, sin’s effect on the mind, on the conscience itself. Our conscience is not infallible.
We can look at the history of the church in America and see that there was no crisis of conscience for slaveholding Puritans, for segregationist pastors and Ku Klux Klan members who were in clear violation of the Scriptures and not walking in line with the gospel. I fear that, in some ways, we have made our conscience our god.
This is where faith comes in—God knew in eternity past that these would be the presidential candidates put before us. We are shocked; God is not. After you’ve prayed and researched, and done all that you can do to make an informed decision, you select your candidate in faith. Trusting that God will use whomever wins to bring about His desired ends. Sometimes His desired end leads to green pastures, and other times, it can lead to exile—but ultimately, He will get the glory even when we are unable to see how He will be glorified.
Brothers and sisters, our salvation does NOT hang in the balance based on this election. The Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 1:4-5 that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1Pet 1:4-5). God’s sovereignty must be an anchor for our souls during this lamentable election cycle. May we echo, then, the words of the Psalmist, in Psalm 42:11
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
May God guard and keep us all. Grace to you!