Engaging a Crazy Election Season

Thus says the Lord, “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity.” Jeremiah 10:2-3

The United States is in the throes of one of its favorite customs: election season. It’s a time of trying to predict which candidate will pull the most votes from what district. Presidential hopefuls deliver speeches foretelling the doom of the country unless they are elected, claiming only they can rescue America from the brink of despotism and anarchy.

“If you don’t feel the Bern, the rich will get richer and the poor will starve to death!”

“If you don’t support Cruz, Christians will be rounded up and thrown into American gulags!”

“If you don’t get behind Hillary, the government will build embassies inside the uterus of every woman of child-bearing age!”

“If you don’t vote for Trump, the Mexicans and Muslims will murder you in your sleep and then take your jobs!”

It’s lunacy out there. Debates are popular because of the mud-slinging and sound bytes. Substantive debate over the issues that highlights disagreements but look for a way forward have gone the way of the dinosaur; these spectacles have more in common with middle-school locker-room slap-fights than serious conversations which will help us choose who should become one of the most powerful people in the world.

Fellow Christians, we can’t get caught up in the craziness. This is an American custom in which we should take no part. I’m not talking about the voting itself; I’m talking about the constant cacophony that accompanies campaign season. I’m talking about the nauseating character assassinations and thoughtless support of candidates regardless of what they believe. The process isn’t about who is the smartest or most qualified anymore. Now it’s about who’s the loudest and most entertaining.

The prophet Jeremiah was faced with a different kind of chaos, but it connects with us today. The prophet confronted the nation of God that had turned away from the one who rescued them from the hands of the Egyptians and toward the gods of the nations around them. They had forsaken the living God for dead idols that were nothing but wood and stone. They looked to the skies in order to forecast their futures by the signs of the stars instead of falling to their knees and trusting their futures to the God who had been with them since the calling of Abraham.

So Jeremiah warned his people not to follow the nations in their futile practices. The United States is certainly not Israel. But Jeremiah’s words are still important for us in an American context. Just as the people of God were willing to prognosticate futures based on the omens they found in the stars and trust their fates to the idols of foreign nations, we American Christians are often tempted to prognosticate futures based on polling data and trust our fates to Americans idols called political candidates. Sisters and brothers, we must not allow our hope to shift from promise of the King of Kings to the promises of ambitious men and women. Do not be captivated by this vain custom!

I’m increasingly dismayed by the craziness I’ve seen during this election cycle. More than that, I’m heartbroken by the ways some Christians have engaged the conversation. They have jumped on one bandwagon or another, touting their form of progressivism or conservatism as if this was their kingdom, as if their home was in the United States.

Kingdom of God, do not place your hope in a presidential candidate. Do not buy the lie that he or she will turn this country into the utopia that all people desire. Such hope is vanity. There is only one paradise and it’s not here. Not yet. As Andrew said earlier this week, we do not put our hope in earthly kings but in the King of Kings.

While we must not find our hope in the political process or its candidates, we have been given a voice. The church may not have the influence it used to have in the U.S., but we still have the ability to learn about the candidates being put forward, analyze their positions, and then act responsibly when we get to the polls. How do we vote when the curtain closes behind us? Are there positions that disqualify candidates from receiving Christian support? What do we do if we’re not able to support anyone?

Over the next few days, I hope to tackle some of these questions. I’m going to focus my energies on the two front-runners and presumptive nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. If, during this series, another frontrunner emerges, I’ll analyze him too. Along the way, I hope to encourage us all to think less like Americans and more like Christians. I hope to point over and over again to Scripture and why certain issues rise to the top of the pile for us. In the end, I won’t tell you who to vote for. But I will ask you to answer some pretty strong objections if you decide to cast your vote in directions that Scripture – and therefore God – would consider objectionable.

It will be controversial, I’m sure. Don’t worry; I’ll try to be an equal-opportunity offender. You’ll probably disagree with some of my conclusions. That’s okay. My goal isn’t to get you to agree with me. My goal is to encourage all of us to leave behind the labels of Democrat and Republican, socialist or libertarian, liberal or conservative. Instead, my prayer is that we would embrace the claim that the Kingdom of God has placed on each and every one of us and approach the chaos of the political world with the peace of the world to come.

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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