The church of Jesus Christ has a particular and peculiar call to leadership in the world. Not only have we been ‘blessed to be a blessing’ (Genesis 12: 2). We are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood called to proclaim the excellencies of Him who brought us out of darkness into a marvelous light.’ (1 Peter 2:9) As the beloved of God we have been set aside for a purpose. We are not simply innocent and interested bystanders clucking our tongues at a car-wreck of a culture. We are instruments set apart to be salt and light to form the culture. If the culture is broken, Christians, especially those extravagantly blessed as most Americans have been, share the blame.
Our nation is terribly divided and people around the world are confused, frustrated and fearful. Yet all can agree the election of Donald Trump following a bitter and ugly campaign is a profound cultural event that marks a changing world. Our world will not be healed by Washington, but our faithful presence and uncompromising proclamation of the Gospel may suggest a ‘more excellent way.’
How should we live as ‘a royal priesthood,’ salt and light, in this new world? I can name five ways.
- Recognize the limitations of politics
God’s punishment for Israel’s cry for a king was to give them one. Israel wanted a King, in part, for the perceived security and power. The very fact that we have devoted so much time, energy, attention and angst to the election of one person to a solitary office suggests that the Presidency, although still democratically elected, has morphed into something more monarchial. This undue power is fed by our anxiety, hope and preoccupation over who occupies the office. One of the elements making this election so bitter is it seemed there was no escape from it. Nearly every element of our culture now has a political element—be it the volunteered opinions of the actors whose movies we enjoy, sports, or the newsfeed that pops up in our phone. This is to say nothing of social media—our primary form of communication. The inescapability of the political suggests that government is all important. It is nothing less than a creeping totalitarianism. The Presidency is important, of course, but it is not ultimate. The President is not the first and the last, Jesus is. Christians need to recommit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and develop good boundaries for when and where we tolerate the presence of politics.
- Share Jesus with the ‘establishment elite.’
We can only guess about the impact of the WikiLeaks campaign during this election but the stolen e-mails clearly revealed a self-serving ‘establishment elite’ consumed with maintaining power and colluding in ways that are troubling. Although WikiLeaks targeted mainly Democrats and the mainstream media I cannot believe similar revelations are not possible across the spectrum. The noble idea of ‘public servant’ now seems quaint and idealistic. Not coincidentally, trust in institutions is at an all-time low. This election has demonstrated that we are not so much a nation of Republicans and Democrats but insiders and outsiders. The ‘establishment elite’ champion caring for the poor, the hungry and the downtrodden but it is unclear, at least to me, if they see them as a subject worthy of their love and respect or an object whose plight can be manipulated to serve their personal goals. At the same time, faith in Jesus Christ, has been systematically eliminated from the halls of power in Washington, Wall Street, newsrooms, Hollywood, college campuses and the like. This is tragic because we have no better model or empowerment for servant leadership than Jesus. Speaking the good news of Jesus to power should not serve the goal of making anyone beholden to a political ideology. It should cultivate and grow the practice of servant leadership, self-sacrifice and treating the public trust as sacred. Any culture is reflective of her leaders and right now, most agree, we need real leadership. If the Church does not cultivate these qualities, no one will. We can’t count upon Harvard, Yale or Berkeley to form Christ-like character.
- Share our life with the forgotten.
Many sociologists have observed that the single most important factor in the inescapability of poverty is lack of relationships. People remain poor and jobless because they don’t know anyone who has a job or knows how to handle money. It is so very hard to escape the gravitational pull of our network of relationships. Donald Trump was propelled to the most powerful office in the world in large part by people he calls, “the forgotten man.” Forgotten rural white people helped pushed Trump over the top. They voted in greater numbers because they felt heard by Trump. Others claim that his campaign stoked fears against immigrants and other strangers. Our strange politics have made the white-skinned forgotten man lean Republican and the darker hued forgotten man lean Democrat. This suggests a deeply un-Christian worldview because we are commanded in Christ there is no Jew or Greek but we should be consumed with love for our neighbor regardless of race, status, station. Our love for the needy is much more than a simple transfer of goods and services. It is more importantly a transfer of our common humanity. It not enough to recognize mere material needs. Everyone is created in the image of God and are worthy of our presence—not merely our presents. Just as Jesus crossed the boundary of heaven and earth to meet us, the Church must cross the boundary of education, economics, race and place to meet the forgotten where they live.
- Practice love and hope not fear
For many conservative Christians, the last eight years under President Obama have been hard. His administration and allies have acted in ways that many evangelicals interpret as hostile. It should also be said there is a fear industry that profits by feeding our doubts and appealing to our darker instincts. Fear sells. We are prone to believe the worst and are filled with fear about what might happen. Fear is different than concern. Concern recognizes that the present reality falls short. Fear worries about what the future might be. The only way to account for fear Biblically is to recognize we have insufficient love—love for God and love for neighbor. Love, we know, conquers fear. First John 4:18 teaches “There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear.” John goes on to teach because we are lacking in love we fear. Conversely we must recognize that faith, hope and love are deeply joined and synergetic. One begets the other. As we allow God’s love and grace to fill our lives, our love for neighbor will grow, our fear will shrink and hope will blossom. We are people of hope. There is, indeed, no hope beyond us. We know that we are people who await an amazing inheritance which no one can snatch from our hand. One of the best ways we can practice love and hope right away is reaching out to someone disappointed, fearful or angry about President-elect Trump. Rather than commiserate, celebrate or taunt we can offer love and hope to someone whose world has been shaken. Maybe our imperfect love for them can mitigate their fears.
- Recognize the limitations of our sinful human nature.
Donald Trump’s victory also reflects a desire to check the growth of government. Federal Government spending as a percentage of GDP is on a steady, long-standing incline. Despite record tax revenues, the government continues to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to fund programs. This is driven, in part, by a demand for services and government intervention in our lives and in the world. We don’t tolerate uncertainty well. Few, when faced with a need, ask “Is this something government should do?” They simply want it done, immaterial to the ancillary consequences. The question “Should government intervene?” is driven by a skepticism toward the concentration of power borne of a realistic, sober view of human nature. It’s out of fashion to teach on sin. However, it does not change the reality that we’re sinners and, left unchecked, will sin—even if acting out of good intentions. Today’s government solution runs the real risk of being our grandchildren’s problem. There is a strong argument to be made that the role of government is to restrain our sinful passions rather than perfect our fallen natures. There is, of course, a vital role for government. Every power is established by God for our good. But our sinful human nature strongly suggests that power should come with significant checks and balances. These checks and balances make government sustainable over the long haul and guard against personal ambition and tyranny. A healthy appreciation for sinful nature and personal brokenness should also humble each of us. In a society where everyone via social media has a megaphone with a potential world-wide reach, this is something we sorely need. Not every thought is worthy of pixilation, digitization and distribution. A realistic understanding of our own brokenness, bathed in grace, readies us to listen a little more fully and cultivate empathy rather than antagonism. The self-righteous sow strife. Forgiven sinners sow peace. We are in love with our potential. And why not? We are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) But understanding our sinful nature will make us more dependent upon God’s grace and ultimately more ready to forgive as we have been forgiven, rather than declare every ‘insight’ we’ve been given.