Already the fever of the 2020 U.S. presidential election is heating up.
As Christians, we must think about what that means for us and where our responsibility lies.
First, it’s important that we vote and we do it as informed citizens. So much misinformation is being spread around by both parties that it will be more difficult than ever to do that.
But this is not about politics. In fact, it is just the opposite.
God did not say “If my government …” in the well-known verses found in 2 Chronicles 7:14. God said “If my people …”
We should be raising up leaders who have strong values and supporting them in elections, but that is not the point of this essay.
When Christ turned his 11 disciples (and a small number of other followers) loose on the world with the power of the Holy Spirit, they turned the world upside down.
They did it at a time when Rome ruled the world. They did it at a time when the litany of Roman emperors were the cruelest, most corrupt in their history.
I doubt any successful effort to legislate our Christian morality has won one person to Christ.
In fact, beginning with Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor who made Christianity the state religion, Christianity has suffered under the thumb of government edicts.
All down through the ages, we have seen the same story.
Our own history begins with rebellion against the unification of the Church of England with the government of Great Britain.
The Puritans settled Massachusetts to escape the edicts of the church. Their attempt to control their faith by law was met with Roger Williams leaving the colony and starting a new colony in Rhode Island for Baptists.
Those same Baptists were leaders in advocating for the freedom of religion that is enshrined in the U.S Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Maryland was settled by Catholics and Pennsylvania by Quakers. Both left the oppression of the government-endorsed church of Great Britain.
In this last century, Christian missionaries were forced out of China when Mao imposed communism.
When that country began to open up again, we feared we would find nothing left of the church that was left behind.
Instead, we found a thriving Christian community. We still don’t know for sure how many Christians are there, but we suspect that church actually grew during that time of persecution.
The same thing happened when Burma (now Myanmar) banished missionaries in the 1950s.
U.S. Baptists were delighted to make contact again with Burmese Baptists in this last decade. We found a thriving Baptist community scattered throughout the country.
Today, we know that the Christian community is growing in the parts of the world where Islam is the predominant faith tradition – including Iran.
Despite our heritage of religious freedom and the lessons of history, we Christians are quick to use legislation as a crutch to avoid accepting the personal responsibility we have been given.
The fact is that the church has been most fruitful when it depends on Christians to be God’s people. Not when comfortable Christians turn to their government to make laws demanding people accept their faith.
Christianity depends on a personal commitment, not a decision from a higher secular power that we should be Christian.
So when we wring our hands and despair for our country, we first need to point to ourselves and say, “Have we humbled ourselves, do we pray and seek God’s face, have we really turned from our wicked ways.”
I know we consider ourselves “good” people, but is that what God is really asking of us – to just be good?
Are we really good when we denigrate others? Are we really good when we spew venom at each other for having different views?
As Christians, we need to have the passion of the early Christians.
We need the determination of those who sailed in uncharted waters to an unknown land to have the right to practice their faith freely.
We need the zeal of those in lands where Christians are persecuted for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to put away our differences and realize we serve a greater cause.
The Scriptures tell us God will heal our land, but it isn’t by elections – as important as they are.
It will be when God’s people learn to live their faith as those before us have taught us by their actions.
Richard Schweissing, a retired high school social studies teacher, is the former president of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains and previously served on the board of American Baptist International Ministries. He teaches U.S. citizenship to immigrants at Crossroads Baptist Church in Northglenn, Colorado, where he also chairs the local missions committee.