1. Jesus is King...Here and Now.
Jesus' Kingdom has begun. In theological terms, this is called "inaugurated eschatology": the new Age-- the long awaited "Age to Come" where God brings His saving and restoring rule to earth-- has begun in Christ. This is the surprising announcement in the Gospels-- that in Jesus, God has become King on Earth...now. This Kingdom is a "now and not yet" reality, however, and we find ourselves living between two ages: this present "evil age" and the promised "age to come." When the first Christians called Jesus "Lord" and "Savior", they were taking titles that were used of Caesar-- the greatest ruler of the known world in their day. They were basically calling Caesar a sham because Jesus is the true Lord and Savior.
This doesn't make Christians anarchists (people who don't believe in government) or separatists (people who try to function independent of society). Rather, it gives us a message and a grid for public engagement. Jesus' Kingship is not a defense for apathy toward political engagement. Believe me, I understand that an overly-politicized faith has left a bad taste in people's mouths. And it is healthy to remember that God is sovereign over all the nations regardless of election results. But as people who believe that Jesus is the only rightful King of this world now, the Church must be a prophetic voice to the rulers of this world, calling them to account to Christ as King. For us, this means calling politicians on both sides of the aisle to govern in a way that reflects Christ's own wise and loving rule.
Suggestion: Set aside your own economic theory and political rhetoric for a moment and ask what Christ the King would say to the "rulers" of our day. Read Matthew 5-7 and 25 for an idea. Then ask how you can be that kind of voice to them.
2. The People of God are to Seek the Flourishing of the Place in Which We Live.
When the people of Judah were being carried off into exile in Babylon, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, telling them to dig wells, plant gardens, and build homes-- basically: get used to living in a land that you don't truly feel at home in. This, in many ways, is a picture of Christians in the world in general, and in a nation in particular. We are never fully at home in any one country because we belong to a Kingdom. Yet we are to make ourselves at home.
But the most surprising part of Jeremiah 29 is God's instruction to "seek the shalom"-- the comprehensive flourishing-- of the city they were being taken to. Up until this point, the people of God had only been told to seek the "shalom" of Jerusalem. Why wish flourishing for Babylon? Because the people of God-- beginning with Abraham-- have been blessed to be a blessing, chosen for the sake of the unchosen.
Christians in America should be politically engaged not just for selfish reasons but for the sake of the country we find ourselves in. We should champion whatever laws, policies, leaders that may be best for the flourishing life of the nation. The trick, of course, is in defining what it means to flourish. A Christian may say that marriage between a man and a woman is necessary for a society to truly flourish, and as such, marriage must be guarded. Others may say that a Christian should be the voice defending freedom of religions since a this is what allows a society to flourish. Still others may focus on healthcare for all the citizens of a nation as a way of seeking its flourishing life. (The clearest issue of all, in my opinion, is the abortion issue, since a life cannot "flourish" if it is not even given the chance to be born!)
The larger debate may well be in how to make a nation flourish-- which healthcare approach, whose responsibility is it to help the poor, etc.
Suggestion: Ask how the Bible helps us imagine the flourishing life. Think of how you can be a voice for this in way that results in society as a whole flourishing. Consider this in light of Jesus' injunction to love our neighbor--even the "enemy" is included in this-- as ourselves.
3. We Can Leverage Civic Privilege for Gospel Purposes.
As a naturalized citizen voting in my first presidential election, I am excited to excercise this privilege. Paul, in Acts, cites his citizenship as a way to gain an audience with Roman authorities. But Paul's goal isn't necessarily political reform. It's to announce to Caesar's face that the True King has arrived. The gig is up. The charade is over.
For us today, this means that we should leverage the privilege of citizenship to announce that Christ is King here and now. To not vote is to not "make the most of every opportunity." The challenge, again, is that thinking through the lens of Christ's Kingship is different than simply asking, "What's best for America?" Politicians will have only this grid. Christians ought to use their vote to say there is a higher authority whose glory we seek.
Suggestion: Ask how God can be glorified in each situation. Vote wisely.
4. The Church Cannot Do It All.
I believe the Church is an alternate society, a new community of people who are being made fully human-- a "new humanity", as Paul calls it in Ephesians. But I am not a separatist. I don't believe the Church functions independently of the State. We do not operate in a vaccuum.
Christians who favor fewer government programs often say, "We care about the poor; we just think that's the Church's job not the government's." This rhetoric sounds nice and even appears correct. I think the Church can and should lead the way in caring for the poor in its own city. But there are systemic problems that the "Church" cannot undo on its own. On its own, the Church cannot hold corporations accountable for trying to exploit foreign workers; the Church cannot prevent systems of injustice that keep the large swaths of society from the opportunity to learn or work; the Church cannot unravel the deeply entrenched patterns of prejudice. Government is necessary. Romans 13 says as much. But the latter part of Romans 12 can be seen as how the Church is to call government to govern: we ask them to overcome evil with good.
Suggestion: Find ways to serve the poor and the oppressed locally and globally in Jesus' name through Godly organizations. Learn about the systems of injustice that encourage greed and abuse and exploitiation. Consider ways to limit (through policies, legislation, etc) the damage that sinful men and women can do to the powerless.
5. America Holds a Place of Influence.
America, by comparison to other super-powers ("empires", as they were called in the ancient world), has sought to use its power for good and not for evil, to liberate and not to oppress. Yes, it was less than righteous in its dealings with the Native American people or with regard to the slave trade initially. Part of the Church being a "prophetic voice" (in the Brueggemann sense) to the State means saying both things: where we have failed and we have done well. It has been Christians who carefully re-examined the Scriptures and used their voice in the public square and the positions of influence they've held to turn America toward justice and mercy. Just as Wilberforce turned Britain against the slave trade and the repercussions were felt around the world, so America's actions today can lead other nations to follow suit.
So, America finds itself in a place of influence in the world-- whether as a result of foreign policy or its sheer size and strength. What happens here echoes around the world. For this reason, Christians in America cannot take lightly our power and privilege to influence the course of events. Look, persecution may be inevitable, but Jesus taught His disciples to pray that we not be led into it. As far as is in our power to do, we can be a voice that helps America be an example of government that reflects the wise, just, and true government of Jesus in the world.
Suggestion: Talk with missionaries and others who have lived or live overseas. Ask them what kind of impact America has had pr is having on their part of the world, for better or for worse. Consider voting in a way that helps America serve other nations and not exploit them. Ask what policies are good not just for our economy but for the world's economy...or better yet: for the earth as a whole (I'm thinking of creation and stewarship here).