Much to my surprise, no one invited me to a recent gathering in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
According to news stories, hundreds of evangelical pastors attended sessions at the Baton Rouge River Center in order to learn how to run successfully for public office. The American Renewal Project sponsored the event. Dave Lane, the founder of The American Renewal Project, said he hoped some 1,000 evangelical pastors would be elected to office in 2016. As he put it, “Somebody’s values are going to reign supreme. Our values or somebody else’s values.” He seems to think America would be well served by pastors in office “voting for their biblically based, conservative values.”
My hunch is that all the afore mentioned values are tied to hot button social issues, economic philosophies, attitudes toward science, and the role of religion in public life. The goal of the newly elected public officials would be to write their values into law.
The last time I checked my New Testament, I could not find a single instance in which Jesus announced he intended to run for public office, establish a political party, or use the power of the state to force anyone to follow his way. In fact, unless I’ve missed something vital, Jesus died through an abuse of the power of the religious and political establishments of his era, and the only action he took against either was to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Where does that leave us today, followers of Jesus who care about the society in which we live and the larger world? Is there a Christ-honoring alternative to seeking and exercising political power?
Of course! In the wilderness temptation narratives, Jesus rejects all forms of earthly power in favor of radical service to God and to others in the name of God. He then spends the rest of his life living into such a life. In doing so, he models for us how the Christian individual, the church, and—certainly—pastors are to deal with the world.
Jesus prays a great deal. He teaches in all the settings available to him: synagogues, mountain sides, beaches, roadways, and homes. Jesus welcomes all who seek to come near him or touch him, even those religious leaders decree are outside the pale. He heals the sick and feeds the hungry. Jesus goes to dinner with anyone, including those who are uncertain about or apt to oppose him. His teachings and actions often challenge religious and societal practices, but to the best of my knowledge, Jesus refuses to use power to intimidate or coerce anyone.
When his closest disciples succumb to the all too human desire to set up a kingdom on earth and run such a kingdom, he refuses. Jesus instead chooses to live and die as a servant. He seeks to know and do the will of God and to teach others to walk the same road in his company, but he leaves the decision to do so in their hands.
Jesus vests all his hope in God and God alone.
With that in mind, and to the acute disappointment of the three persons who might have voted for me, I must announce that I will not be seeking public office in 2016 (or any other year!).
Maybe that’s why no one bothered to invite me to the gathering in Baton Rouge.