The American political season is in full swing with the 2016 Presidential campaign underway.
This has been an especially unusual election cycle, given that one of our own was running this year in Dr. Ben Carson. His recent exit from the race left some Adventists breathing a sigh of relief, while others in dismay. As the field narrows, and November 8 moves closer with each passing day, what are Adventist Christians to do?
Here are three general principles to keep your faith and sanity while following this election:
1. Avoid unreservedly endorsing a particular candidate or party.
According to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center, 35% of Adventists identify or lean towards Republican party ideals, 45% lean towards the Democratic side, and 19% consider themselves independent.
Something inside me cringes when I hear statements like “Republicans are destroying our nation” or “Liberals are taking our country to hell in a hand basket.” Adventists should not be unapologetically Democrat or Republican.
The danger with unreservedly endorsing a candidate or any party as a Christian is believing that the solutions to this world’s problems will be solved by the election of human beings of a particular party into political office. While Fox News and MSNBC might disagree with this idea, the Bible and Ellen White back it up quite well. King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (well-known to Adventists) tells us that what comes next in the timeline of Bible prophecy is the Kingdom of Christ, not a Republican or Democratic utopia.
Ellen White also spoke about the danger of partisanship when she said:
“There is fraud on both sides” she wrote in a “special testimony” sent from Australia to the General Conference session of 1897…Thus, she urged those for whom the Lord Jesus is “the Captain” to “file under his banner” and avoid “linking up with either party.” Adventists, she wrote two years later, have their “citizenship…in heaven…they are to stand as subjects of Christ’s kingdom, bearing the banner which is inscribed, ‘The commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’” Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, pg. 1038
2. If you absolutely must, speak to issues of justice and injustice.
Because all political parties are made up of broken people, we need to remember that, as believers, Christ doesn’t pick sides with anyone. Interestingly enough, in her day, “Ellen White became a fervent advocate of ‘movement politics’ – discriminating involvement in the political process on behalf of benevolent reform in contrast to partisan politics centering on advancing the power of a political party.” -EGW Encyclopedia pg. 1037
Are there moral issues that need addressing in our day? Of course. Yet, it is a sad reality that the political arena pits, for example, pro-life causes against each other. While they each have their flaws, Democrats are stereotypically seen as the party that “kills babies” and Republicans are seen as the party that “hates minorities and immigrant rights.”
One writer wondered, “Why this tension between two groups fighting for human dignity? I think much of it is owed to our increasingly tribal and fractured culture.” Still, there are moral issues of justice and injustice to be faced and the Bible speaks firmly against the suppression of human rights.
One interesting anecdotal detail is that the early Adventist church made matters of justice and injustice a top priority. In conversation with Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review, he mentioned that early in its history, writers in the Review and Herald on occasion called out politicians directly, even by name. The reason for this was that Adventism saw itself as a counter-cultural movement, not encumbered by political partisanship (or endangering its non-profit 501(c)(3) status, but that’s another matter altogether).
Speaking up on matters of social justice include voicing concerns when politicians disparage entire people groups like the handicapped, immigrants, religious groups, and women. So, although I could have easily made an equally lengthy article against any of the candidates, I spoke openly against Donald Trump because, like Ellen White, I believe that we must push for “a government that protects, restores, relieves, but never savers of oppression.” Jesus said that we can’t read anyone’s heart, but we can get a good idea of where it lies by noticing the pattern of someone’s words and actions.
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. -Luke 6:45
Still, there is a danger in both staying completely silent and being overbearing when it comes to politics. No one, especially pastors, should spend an inordinate amount of time studying, discussing, or posting about politics when there are other matters to attend. Ellen White went so far as to say:
“The tithe should not be sued to pay anyone for speechifying on political questions,” and any “teacher, minister, or leader in our ranks who is stirred with a desire to ventilate his opinions on political questions” must either “be converted” or give up working for the church, along with any credentials. -EGW Encyclopedia pg. 1039
3. Regardless of the outcome, follow and point people to Jesus.
In what is sure to descend into further madness leading to Election Day, Christ followers must stay above the fray. We must not believe the party narrative where the solution to the problems in this country is for “political correctness to go away” like Trump would advocate. The Bible explicitly counsels against this kind of unrestrained speech:
“He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:27
On the other side, we must also not believe that the church must exclusively work through the expansion of government social programs in order to impact the world. After all, the early church took more of a radical approach to personal possessions than even the Bernie Sanders campaign:
“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Acts 4:32
People may have different interpretations about whether the above lifestyle is doable in a secular society, but the fact remains that it at least was possible in the early Christian community. To speak practically on one issue here as a Millennial pastor, while Bernie Sanders has a strong following of support from this generation, I have to ask myself if Millennials are more enamored with the idea of a church engaging in social justice than actually joining one to do it? This is a term that’s been labeled “slacktivism.” Regardless of who wins, Christians who voted for a particular party or candidate will still have issues to work through.
The issues that divide people today will still exist after the election. We must remember that, at the end of the day, we are going to have to work and interact with people who believe differently than we do, religiously, philosophically, existentially, and yes, politically.
So, in this election cycle, yes, make your vote count; don’t stay home on November 8, 2016. Yet, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket; you may be disappointed when you realize your vote doesn’t usher in the Millennium. Focus on issues, don’t vote based on emotion or popular opinion, and remember that regardless of who is sworn in next, the Rock is still barreling towards the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.
Until then, in matters of political and civil discourse, let’s remember the to follow the advice of Jesus’ own brother James:
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:9