These are the words of that paragon of virtuous and enlightened citizenship, Beyonce.
Romney supporters are doubtless going to be subjected to a lot of gloating from Obama supporters in the coming days. It’s difficult, to say the least, to absorb the significance of the defeat of your candidate when you hoped he would prevail. This has been a difficult day for me, because I sincerely hoped Romney would win. I truly believed he was the better choice to lead our country, and I was bitterly disappointed that he lost.
Beyonce didn’t help.
But that’s OK. Beyonce is irrelevant. What matters now is living with the reality that President Obama is the choice of the majority of Americans to be the leader of our country, and that his policies are going to be planted deeply into our way of life. That leads to this very important question: what does this fact mean for evangelical Christians, of whom I am one?
It seems there are a set of options for us. We can be despondent, bitter, angry, and mean-spirited. We can lash out. We can characterize Democrats as “enemies.” We can talk of God’s judgment on the nation. We can retreat from political discourse. We can equate the United States with the kingdom of God, or Old Testament Israel, and look forward to all sorts of divine chastisement. We can theorize about what God is going to do to us since Obama was re-elected.
That’s stupid. Let’s not do those things. Please.
I have a better idea. Let’s look to one of our forefathers in the faith–Justin Martyr. He died around the year 165 as a martyr for his confession of Jesus Christ. He had his head cut off.
Justin wrote several classic works in apologetics. His First Apology was addressed directly to the emperor Antoninus Pius and the Roman Senate. In this letter to the highest Roman authorities, he pleaded for justice for the Christians who were being persecuted solely on the basis of their confession of Christ. He said, in effect, if you are going to judge us, then do so on the basis of whether or not we have acted wickedly, not simply because we carry the name of “Christian.” Christians, Justin said, are the most loyal of the emperor’s subjects, committed to truth, righteousness, compassion, and civic duty.
Why? Justin told the emperor and the senate that the reason Christians were the most loyal subjects was because of their belief in the righteousness of God. Christians look to a heavenly kingdom where they will be in the presence of the holy God forever. It was because the Christians lived in the sight of God that they were good citizens–not to mention the fact that Christ explicitly taught them so.
He went on to explain what Christianity is, by discussing fulfillment of prophecies concerning Christ, the person and work of Christ, and Christian worship practices and the reasons for those practices.
Christians have a golden opportunity right now to follow this example.
Christian citizenship was modeled for us by the early Christians. They were worshippers of the true God, which meant that their actions were motivated by the fear of God. They took Christ’s moral teaching very seriously. They were salt and light in their culture. They protected the lives of unwanted infants, the infirm, the elderly, the outcasts. They were generous, they prayed for their persecutors. They payed their taxes joyfully. Yes, joyfully. Justin said, “everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavor to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him” (First Apology XVII, 168 in vol. 1 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers). They sought the kingdom of heaven prior to everything else and were not obsessed with preserving their earthly lives, in obedience to the clear teaching of their Christ.
Still, they did not compromise on their convictions. They refused to worship idols, refused to abort their unborn, refused to expose their infants, and refused to do anything against the teachings of Christ. They accepted the consequences of their counter-cultural actions by going to their deaths, many of them. But they were loyal to the Roman state. Justin said to the emperor, “And more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in promoting peace” (First Apology XII, 166).
Justin’s writings to the emperor reflect faithfulness to Paul’s admonition to believers in Romans 13 about being submissive to government. That passage is binding on us–particularly to those of us who say we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.
So to evangelicals, I say–stop complaining about Obama and the liberals. Stop dressing up in cheesy colonial costumes in order to make a splash for that which is passing away. Quit gay bashing. Leave off persecuting people who came to the US illegally. Forget about the pipe dreams that America is supposed to be a Christian nation, or that it is exceptional. And for everyone’s sake, stop claiming that God is judging America. God doesn’t judge nations. The judgement of God is on those who do not believe on the Son, no matter their nationality. See John 3.18.
Instead, be true to your confession. Don’t rely on the state to do the job of the church. Obey the teachings of Christ. Be compassionate and merciful. Champion the interests of those who cannot do so for themselves. Educate yourself on what Christianity is, and why it is the truth. Believe in Christ, not merely on the basis of your experience or on sentimentality, but on the basis of who Christ is in reality, and the transcendent truths of His words. Stay true to your moral convictions, and joyfully and lovingly accept the consequences. Love your detractors. Pray for those who think you are a bigot, an idiot, intolerant. Be a friend to everyone. Do not repay evil for evil. Overcome meanness with grace. Never suffer for sinning (I Peter 4.15). Suffer for the glory of Christ (I Peter 4.16).
That’s our pattern. Get with it.