October 30, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#1—Gracism in This Election
10 days and counting to the election. I was talking with a young Kenyan named John. They follow our politics closely, and John said, “Your election is like a TV reality show.” I cannot remember an uglier campaign in my lifetime. That’s not to say that there haven’t been ugly campaigns before. John Adams felt that if the country elected Thomas Jefferson as President, it was all over. Jefferson was elected—and we survived. In 1860 much of the country believed that if Abraham Lincoln was elected, the nation could not survive. Lincoln was elected—and we survived. Throughout Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, people spoke of him bitterly, calling him a dictator, saying whoever assassinated him was doing the nation a favor. Roosevelt served four terms—and we survived. We’ve always had tough elections and flawed candidates. And now we have Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two most unpopular candidates in modern history. What are we as Christians to do?
Months ago, I scheduled a two-week series that was to start today. It’s called “Gracism: the Art of Inclusion”. It’s based on an excellent book by the same title by David Anderson. I wanted to address the racial tensions stirring in our nation from a Christian perspective: it’s time to replace racism with gracism. While I was in Kenya, I decided to extend this series by one week, and use this first week to specifically address a Christian perspective on our election. First, let me define terms I’ll be using the next three weeks.
Racism: speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on that person’s color, class or culture.
Gracism: the positive extension of favor on other humans based on color, class or culture. (or politics)
Over the next three weeks, we’ll unpack what it means to be a gracist, to be radically inclusive, to go out of our way to show favor to those who are different from us. Christians are called to be radically inclusive of those who are different—whatever their difference: color, class, culture, or even politics. We are called to actively love everyone always.
So here’s a Christian perspective—a gracist perspective—on our election. I want to talk with you about our hope and our response.
- Our hope: God is in control.
God is in control. Not the Republicans, not the Democrats; not Clinton or Trump; not the media or the FBI—God is in control! And that is our hope.
At the leadership conference in Kenya, Sammy Wannyoni closed the conference by quoting this verse: (read it together)
Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
When I heard that verse, it hit me: our hope in this election is not either major party or any candidate—our hope is that God is in control. Jesus made the most staggering claim imaginable: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It’s either pure nonsense or pure truth. Jesus is in charge. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He is over everything.
He said this as part of the Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus is sending his disciples and promising that no one and nothing can stop them. Rome, the greatest power on earth, couldn’t stop them. No power in heaven or earth can stop Jesus’ followers as they take the good news everywhere!
Friends, nations and kingdoms come and go. But the Kingdom of God is forever. In the first century, if someone had told you that mighty Rome would fall and a tiny band of Christians would become a worldwide movement, you would have laughed in his face. But it happened, and will keep happening. Jesus has all authority, and one day, “The kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of our Christ.” Revelation 11:15
The day is coming when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:10–11 Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Would you say that with me? Jesus is Lord. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus is Lord!
I confess that I have felt some despair during this election season: first because of the levels of negativity and hostility, and second because I’m not excited about either of our presidential candidates. I say that knowing that some of you are enthusiastic in your support of one or the other, and I respect that. But more than ever before, millions of Americans are unhappy with both major party candidates. Many feel like they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. I’ve felt discouraged—is this the best we can do? And I’ve heard many others express the same discouragement.
But when I remember that Jesus is Lord, that He has all authority, that nothing and no one can stop Him, I have hope. Jesus is bigger than Hillary Clinton. Jesus is bigger than Donald Trump. Jesus is bigger than our 9 Supreme Court justices or whoever may replace them. Jesus is bigger than the Republican or Democrat parties. Jesus is Lord! And whatever happens on November 8, Jesus will still be Lord! And God’s Kingdom will still be growing.
God is in control. That’s our hope.
The apostle Paul shared the gospel in the city of Athens when it was the cultural and intellectual center of the world. Here is how he started.
Acts 17:24–26 (NLT)
24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
Notice these big ideas:
- There is one God who made the world and everything in it. 24
- This God is Lord of heaven and earth. 24
- Human temples and religions can’t begin to contain him. 24-25
- From one man he created all nations. 26 I’ll come back to this next weekend. Racism is fundamentally false because we all come from a common ancestor. There is really only one race: the human race, and we are all brothers and sisters. We’re going to dive into this next week.
- God determines the rise and fall of nations and their boundaries.
Let’s read that last verse together.
26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
God decides when nations rise and fall. God decides. This is not to suggest some kind of fatalism—it doesn’t matter what we do, God decides. This is to promote hope: God is bigger than any nation, any political system, any political candidate or party. God is in charge.
Jesus understood this. When was on trial, the Roman governor, Pilate, said, “Don’t you realize that I have power either to free you or crucify you?”
John 19:11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
Was Pilate in charge? No, God was. God was working to accomplish His purposes through a cynical, corrupt and cruel Roman bureaucrat. The only reason you know about Pilate is because of Jesus. He is a footnote in the story of Jesus. But at the time, it looked like Pilate had all the authority, all the power. “Don’t you know I have the power to free you or crucify you?” He thought he had all the power, but he didn’t. If you had asked someone standing there who would be remembered 50 years later, or 100 or 1000, he would have said Pilate. And he would have been wrong. Millions of people love and follow Jesus; Pilate is just a footnote in Jesus’ story. Pilate only thought he had power; God was in charge!
Paul understood this. He wrote:
Romans 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Who establishes governing authorities? God does. God is in charge. When Paul wrote this, Nero was the emperor in Rome. Nero was mentally unhinged, and morally deranged. He used Christians as living torches to light his gardens. He had sex with his mother, and married a castrated man. Nero makes Donald and Hillary look like saints by comparison! But Paul wasn’t wringing hands or crying, “The sky is falling!” or “This will be the end of America!” He knew that Nero would be a footnote in history, like Pilate. He knew that God was in charge, and that His kingdom is forever. If you had asked someone at that time who would be remembered and respected 50 or 100 or 1000 years later, he would have said Nero. He would have been wrong. Today, we name our kids Paul and our dogs Nero.
Paul wasn’t in a panic because he knew God was in charge. God is writing the Big Story, and in that story, Donald and Hillary will only be footnotes, not the main characters. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.
I know that this idea that God is in charge raises many questions. I’m not trying to answer all those today. I’m just trying to drum home one big idea: we don’t need to panic. We have hope because we believe that God is in charge. Whoever is elected—Donald or Hillary or someone else—it won’t be the end of the world. It won’t even be the end of our democracy. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that this election is unimportant. Every election is important—and maybe this one more than others. I’m just saying that as Christians, we believe that Jesus is Lord, that God is in control, and therefore we refuse to give in to fear. We refuse to give in to fear! We live with hope!
That leads to my second point: our response. I want to suggest three Christian or gracist responses to this election.
- Our response:
What should we do? First…
Be honest: how many of you have been worried or fearful about the results of this election? I have! What should we do when we feel anxious? Pray.
Philippians 4:6–7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Don’t be anxious, don’t be worried, don’t be fearful—instead, pray. And God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds. We need to pray.
But does God hear these kinds of prayers—prayers about politics, about presidents and governors? Yes. Paul wrote to Timothy, a young pastor and said,
1 Timothy 2:1–4 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
First of all, pray. Pray for all people. Pray specifically “for kings and all those in authority.” Why? So we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. God wants people everywhere to experience peace, to live good lives, peaceful and quiet lives, without war and poverty. So pray! Pray for kings and presidents and governors and all in authority. Remember, Nero was the emperor when Paul wrote this. Pray for Nero, that godless, immoral leader! Pray for leaders you like, and the ones you don’t like, the good and the bad. Pray!
We’re going to do that right now. I’m going to give you several specific things to pray for and let you pray. I’ll wrap up each prayer and give you the next one.
- Give us wisdom as we elect a new president.
- Donald Trump
- Hillary Clinton
- Give us wisdom as we elect a state governor, US Senator and Representative.
- Give us wisdom as we elect a host of state, county and city officials, and vote on various initiatives.
- Heal our nation of its racial and political divides. Help us come together for the common good.
First, we pray. Second, we vote.
In each of the passages listed on your outline, Jesus, Paul and Peter all call us to be good citizens. These people were living under kings who were often despotic and totalitarian. We have the privilege of living in a democratic republic, and enjoy liberties that most of the rest of humanity could only dream about. In the last few years, I’ve been reading lots of American history, particularly about our founding fathers. The American experiment—an experiment that many thought would fail and on several occasions came perilously close to failing—has resulted in the longest lasting, greatest democracy in human history. I was talking with a man in Kenya about our election, and he wisely said, “Your nation will survive whoever is elected because you are a mature democracy.” He is right, although “mature” is not the word that I’d use to describe some of our political behavior lately. But he’s right—we’ll survive because we’re a mature democracy that has been peacefully transferring power for 250 years.
We’re called to be good citizens, and in a democracy that means casting your vote. How do you decide whom to vote for? Let me tell you how I do it. I’m not going to tell you who I vote for—or who you should vote for—but I want to help you think about the process of deciding whom to vote for. I consider two things: the person and the policies.
First, the person. In one sense, electing someone is a hiring decision. When I hire someone here at Life Center, we have several things we look at, and you might evaluate candidates on these same three qualities.
Character. Character is first. When Paul listed the qualifications for pastors (or elders) in 1 Timothy 3, most of them are about character or virtue. I won’t hire someone if they have glaring character deficiencies. I can train you and teach you skills, but I probably can’t re-parent you. So I look for character first. In repeated leadership studies, followers say that the most important quality they look for in a leader is integrity. When I vote for a president, I am looking for a leader with character, someone I trust. We are not looking for saints, but we should be looking for people who are at least trying to live virtuously. When it comes to picking a President, Gandhi had it right: “The obligation of accepting a position of power is to be, above all else, a good human being.” Look for character or virtue.
Competence. Leadership requires a set of skills and competencies, so I look for leaders who have demonstrated those skills and competencies. For example, political leaders must work for the common good, which requires the ability to compromise. Will this leader be able to work with his/her opponents, or will they stubbornly promote gridlock. They must also display a competent grasp of complex political issues. And here, as in every field, experience counts. Character first, then a degree of competence, and finally…
Chemistry. Can they get along with people? When I’m hiring someone, I use the “office test”: when this person walks into my office, do I think, “Oh boy!” or “Oh no!” I can’t do the office test with a president, but I can observe how they treat people and what others say about working with them. People who cannot work well with others will rarely get much done.
So I look at the person and evaluate them based on character, competence and chemistry.
Second, the policies. There are issues that I care about deeply, and I want to know how this person will vote or act upon these issues. Some of the issues I care about are right to life issues; family life and protection of children; education; alleviating poverty; immigration; religious freedom; economic well-being for all; human rights; peace; and creation care. You will have your own list, and should vote for the candidates that promote your concerns.
Vote your conscience. And I hope that as Christians, your conscience has been formed by Scripture under the Lordship of Jesus. I hope that what is important to Jesus will be important to you.
Pray, vote, and finally…
In the past 6 months I have repeatedly heard people say, “I hate Hillary” or “I hate Donald”. Many of these people have been Christians. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are called to love everyone always. You must love your neighbor as yourself. And if that isn’t strong enough for you, you must love your enemy. You must love Donald and Hillary, and pray for them, and want the best for them. You don’t have to like their politics or what they stand for—you can (and should) disagree with them. But you can’t hate them. You must love them.
And you must love their supporters—the ones you disagree with.
Let me remind you again that loving someone doesn’t mean you feel something warm and wonderful for them. It means you do what is best for them. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you. Love wants the very best for others.
ILL: A few days ago, I was on a walk in our neighborhood and spotted a suspicious car—it looked like the guy was casing the neighborhood. A couple days later, I spotted him again, and as soon as he saw me, he did a u-turn and left.
I started praying. I prayed for protection for our homes, our stuff, our lives, our neighborhood. I prayed that Jesus would stop him from harming anyone. I prayed for us. Then the Lord stopped me. I was loving myself; I was loving my neighbors; but what about this guy? I started praying for him. I prayed that he would find Jesus; that if in fact he was a thief, the Lord would save and change and free him.
Afterwards I thought about how easy it is to think “us-them”. “Bless us, stop them.” The whole point of gracism is that there is no “them.” Only “us.”
I have to love us—all of us—the people whose colors are different from mine, whose cultures are different from mine, whose politics are different from mine. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to love, to want and work for the best for everyone. That’s what Christians do. We pray, we vote, and we love everyone always.