My primary concern

Here we go again: another election year, another presidential primary. Things get ugly within the major parties. Then they get ugly between the parties. That’s likely to be particularly so in the wake of this year’s impeachment debacle.

Will Christians be part of the ugliness?

There’s always a touch of carnival in the run-up to an election, as people turn to satire. One presidential candidate, running as a Libertarian, is fond of wearing a boot on his head; his platform includes, among other things, the promise of a free pony for every American.

But the bipartisan political conflicts that play out on center stage this year are sure to be deadly serious. Will the same ideological conflicts that divide the nation also divide the church? Nationally? Locally? In our own congregations and families?

Some Christians are deeply committed to what would be considered “conservative” causes; some are committed to “liberal” causes. But such labels are only helpful to a point. We humans have an irrepressible tendency to think in binary terms: black or white; blue state or red; liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican.

But underneath it all, one finds more insidious binaries: righteously right or sinfully wrong, informed or deluded, friend or foe. Tell me your party affiliation, tell me who you voted for in the last election — and I think I know you, what makes you tick, and whether we can be friends.

And sadly, that distinction can overshadow the fact that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus bid his followers to seek the kingdom of heaven. That is not, of course, a command to be otherworldly in a way that is indifferent to what the nations might do. Those who seek justice cannot be passive; at election time, we must vote for what we believe is right and honorable.

But we do so in the humility of knowing that no election can bring God’s kingdom. Every election, every candidate, every platform is imperfect. Some of us are “single issue” voters — we vote for a candidate because of his or her stance on some issue that is particularly important to us. But in reality, there’s no way to vote for a single issue, only for a whole package which, if we look closely, contains proposals we’d rather do without.

And none of that is to say, of course, that candidates will actually deliver on their promises, whether it’s because they never really intended to in the first place, or underestimated what it would take to get new legislation through a deeply divided system.

Perhaps most importantly: no candidate — not even a Christian one — is our King. We serve but one King, and the last time I checked, he wasn’t registered with any particular political party.

“By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said… “by your party affiliation.” No, not that. “By the candidate you vote for”? Not that either.

You know what he said.

The mark of the kingdom is love: love for one another, love for our enemies. Jesus showed us what that kind of humble and compassionate love looks like, and he calls us to follow his example.

That’s the kingdom that matters.

For eternity, not just the next four years.