This question makes me squirm a little bit. How do people of faith participate in the political process? The question for me is not are we political, but how are we political? We need to be politically engaged, but peculiar in how we engage. Jesus and the early Christians had a marvelous political imagination. They turned all the presumptions and ideas of power and blessing upside down. To be nonpartisan doesn’t mean we’re nonpolitical.
The early Christians felt a deep collision with the empire in which they lived, and with politics as usual. They carelessly crossed party lines and built subversive friendships. And we should do that too. To be nonpartisan doesn’t mean we’re nonpolitical. We should refuse to get sucked into political camps and insist on pulling the best out of all of them. That’s what Jesus did—challenge the worst of each camp and pull out the best of each. That’s why we see Essenes, Zealots, Herodians, Pharisees, and Sadducees all following Jesus and even joining his movement. But they had to become new creations. They had to let go of some things. Jesus challenged the tax-collecting system of Rome and the sword of the Zealots.
So to answer the question, I engage with local politics because it affects people I love. And I engage in national politics because it affects people I love. Governments can do lots of things, but there are a lot of things they cannot do. A government can pass good laws, but no law can change a human heart. Only God can do that. A government can provide good housing, but folks can have a house without having a home. We can keep people breathing with good health care, but they still may not really be alive. The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do. We can’t wait on politicians to change the world. We can’t wait on governments to legislate love. And we don’t let policies define how we treat people; how we treat people shapes our policies.
I do not advocate for non-involvement in politics. Instead, there is a warning for people of faith not to put their trust totally in political powers. We exercise an ongoing involvement with the political process, to constantly speak truth to power in those places where power seems to be asserting itself in ways that are contrary to the will of God.
Our goal is to seek first the kingdom of God. What would it look like if Jesus were in charge of my block, of our city, of our country, our world? That’s what we get to imagine when we dream dreams of the kingdom on earth. And we get some pretty good glimpses of what that looks like from the Gospels: the poor are blessed and the rich are sent away empty, the mighty are cast from their thrones, the lowly are lifted, the peacemakers and the meek are blessed, and the proud-hearted are scattered (Luke 1:51–53).
And we’ll work with anyone who wants to work with us as we try to get to the kingdom—whether that looks like reducing poverty or eliminating abortions, doing something meaningful for the environment, changing bad laws, or trying to make sure the most vulnerable are cared for.
But we do have a peculiar way in which we hope. When I see posters with Trump’s or Clinton’s name with the word hope under it, I cringe. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment if our hope is built on anything less than God.
So when it comes to voting, I look at it not as a place to put our hope but a battle with the principalities and powers of this world. Voting is damage control. We try to decrease the amount of damage being done by those powers. And for the Christian, voting is not something we do every four years. We vote every day. We vote by how we spend money and what causes we support. We vote by how much gas we use and what products we buy. We align ourselves with things all the time. We pledge allegiance every day with our lives. The question is, Do those things line up with the upside-down kingdom of our God—where the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers are declared “blessed”?
This is not a Democratic thing, nor is it a Republican thing. It’s the thing that God calls the government to do in order to bring good to all humanity. Governments are created, says Romans 13, to do good for their citizens, and we have the right to resist governments when they don’t do what is good for their people. We also have the responsibility to encourage governments when they do act in ways that are good. In Matthew 25:31–46, we read that God will judge the nations in accord with how each nation cared for the poor, cared for those in prison, and how well they accepted aliens. Please note that God holds nations, not just the church, responsible for caring for the poor. That passage of Scripture should answer those who question whether or not there is a national responsibility to care for those who are needy.
Given the times in which we live and the vast needs of the poor in both America and the world, the good that should be done for those who are impoverished requires that church and state work alongside each other to achieve this. My hope is that we all can work together toward that end. So when you vote, remember what your faith teaches you as you make a decision!
Eric H. W. Kussman Sr. is an author, activist, and public speaker with articles published in magazines such as "First Things" and "Conspire!" Kussman serves as an Elder at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Springfield, NJ and leader of Ransom Writers and Speakers, an urban ministry that empowers broken people to find their voice. He currently devotes his time at Market Street Mission and to his five children.