In case you haven’t noticed we have entered into the final days of the political season. This means that everywhere you go you see signs in lawns and that no matter what TV show you watch you have to contend with all kinds of political advertising – most of it mean-spirited and most of it lacking in factual veracity. We are being bombarded and it is almost impossible to escape. This inevitably leads to the question about whether Christians should participate at all in this political process and, if so, in what ways. If you look over the landscape of American Christianity you get a wide variety of responses to those questions. At one edge of the spectrum there are those who want to usher in God’s Kingdom through the electoral process and so support candidates and positions which they believe will bring them closer to achieving this goal. On the other edge there are those who completely remove themselves from the political process branding it as too worldly and sinful for Christians to participate in. And then there is every sort of variation of these positions in between.
Lutheran Christians, inspired by Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, have historically taken a middle road between these two extremes. The problem with The Two Kingdoms doctrine is that it is easily misunderstood and misrepresented. The name itself suggests a separation, which is misleading. Another difficulty with Luther’s Two Kingdom’s doctrine is that it is really rooted in the political structure of early 16th century Germany, whose realities are very remote from our own. Even so, there are a couple points that are still very relevant to our own times and might be helpful for Christians to keep in mind as they consider their participation in the political process in November.
First – Christ is Lord of both the Civil Kingdom and the Kingdom of God, and we as Christians are citizen of both Kingdoms. These Kingdoms are inter-connected, they are not completely separate from each other. In other words, our values and priorities as Christians should inform our participation in civil society. But at the same time we must recognize that they are separate realms that cannot become one and the same thing. It is similar to Luther’s doctrine of Law and Gospel. Law informs Gospel. Without the law we do not recognize our need for the Gospel. Law alone is judgment; Gospel alone is cheap grace; together they point to the costly grace of the cross. We, as citizens of both Kingdoms, have responsibilities in both realms.
Second – We live in a fallen world where the Kingdom of God has not yet come in its fullness. It is up to the God to bring into being the Kingdom of God. It is not up to us. We are not called to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. Those times in history when groups have attempted this have all ended badly. Our calling is rather to be faithful and diligent servants of Christ living in this fallen world, which is governed by civil authority. This means we are subject to the laws of the land, and that we are to participate fully in politics, and in every way to be good citizens.
How does this translate then into representative democracy, an institution that Luther never knew or experienced. I would suggest these conclusions: 1. The political process, that is a part of the civil kingdom is a secular process. Therefore we do not vote on the basis of a candidate’s Christian convictions or denomination. In fact, to do so would put us in the position of judge and we have no right to judge another’s relationship with God. Therefore, 2. The important thing to ask oneself is not the popular – Am I better off with this candidate or that candidate? But the pertinent question is this: Is my neighbor better off? Which candidate or party’s position will benefit the largest number of citizens? Which candidate or party will make care for the poor, the hungry and the sick the higher priority? We cannot flourish and grow as a nation if there are segments of the population that are suffering. We cannot simply turn our backs and ignore those who are in need. We have an obligation, as Christians, to make care of neighbor our number #1 priority. Which party or candidate understands that we, as a society, are a large interconnected community, not a collection of self-centered individuals.
Lastly, as Christians we must take a stand against the idea that selfishness is a virtue and that compassion is a sign of weakness. Both of these views are being articulated more and more and both of them run completely counter to the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who every time he encounters one who is in need is wracked with compassion; it is Jesus who in the one time when he talks about judgment on the day when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness lifts up – not strength, not power, not moral purity - but care for the neighbor. (See Matthew 25:31ff).
So, finally it comes down to you as a Christian citizen of the Kingdom, and as a responsible citizen of the Civil Kingdom. There is not a right or wrong candidate or party; there is not a more “Christian” candidate or party. All candidates and parties are a part of the Civil Kingdom. And so we then have to determine which to support based on our convictions that God has called for us to have compassion for and reach out to physically care for others.