I’ll make this short.
In a public lecture given in 2011, N. T. Wright (“Kingdom and Cross”—which I make my Bible intro students watch every year) talks about the American Evangelical tendency to get tied up with power and place false hope in the political system.
The true Christian responsibility, Wright reminds us, is not to align with power, but to critique it prophetically in all its forms, to remind the powerful that no matter how powerful they are, they answer to the Creator.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Christians are not to be involved in the political process. It only means that they acknowledge that no political process or candidate is ever the source of hope because no candidate is ever free of corruption. A prophetic critique is the Christian responsibility and always needed.
I would add that how that responsibility is given flesh and bone will vary. Personally I don’t think shrill “the end is nigh” speeches function as true prophetic critiques in our climate, nor do I think that this is simply a matter of parroting a few Bible verses or praying loudly. (Let’s use some common sense.)
A true prophetic critique takes a lot of thought, humility, rhetorical self-awareness, theological depth, and cultural awareness. In a word, what the Bible calls “wisdom”—seeing how what is good, right, and just speaks into a given moment.
In this election year—judging by the internet blowing up daily— I think it is safe to say that no matter how dangerous or ungodly we feel the other candidate is, there is room for significant prophetic critique for either candidate. Supporting a candidate does not mean you cannot also point out where they fall short.
Indeed, it is our responsibility to do so. Even if—perhaps especially if—we are convinced fully of one candidate over the other.
The true Christian responsibility in any election is, if anything, to be prophetic. It is not simply to collapse into political polarization. To do so is what N. T. Wright calls idolatry, but that is a topic for another post.
***Speaking of N. T. Wright, I am reading through his latest book, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. I’m finding it a to be a very helpful discussion on looking at “sin” “death” and “salvation” against the backdrop of the biblical story as a whole rather than the common and personal preoccupation with “going to heaven.” ***