October 28, 2020
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
In our current political climate, two competing candidates aren’t seen as worthy opponents – but instead they are considered mortal enemies. They question each other’s character, hurl accusations, and paint pictures of inevitable doom and destruction should the election go a particular way. And it’s not just one party that fights dirty. Mud slinging is an equal opportunity tactic. Donald Trump is running an ad right now that calls Joe Biden a zombie. Biden called Trump a liar and a clown during a presidential debate. During the first presidential debate, my teenage children asked me, “Is this how debates usually go?” My answer? “I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever.” Regardless of who you support, you cannot pretend that polite disagreement or rational debate is the hallmark of your preferred political party.
We’re engaged in a “win at any cost” conflict. But as tempers rise and words fly back and forth, people of faith must remember something even more important than getting our point across and winning on election night. We must be people of reconciliation. Assuming our election results are tallied quickly, you will wake up on November 4th to check the winners and losers. You might experience elation, despair, confusion, or some combination of those emotions when you scroll through your newsfeed on Wednesday morning. But I hope you will also feel something else – a rising determination to be a bridge builder and reconciler.
Romans gives us one way to do that. If (when!) you are disappointed in the election outcome, you will have a choice. Paul calls us to choose to submit to government authority as a matter of conscience. To me, that feels like a very, very difficult choice. I’ve been told to be angry for months now. I’ve been angry for months now. I’ve been told that “they” are my enemy. “They” are liars and zombies and cowards and thieves. How can I expect that to all go away come Wednesday morning? The short answer is that I can’t – unless I start practicing. I can’t engage righteously after election day if I’ve allowed myself to become saturated with our culture’s political poison leading up to it. I can’t see God’s hand in election results and believe that a political opponent is from the devil. Think of the conversations you had today or yesterday. Are they paving the way for you to support the winners, come November 4th? Are they creating pathways towards understanding and acceptance? Are they laying a foundation of relationship with those who will feel the opposite of you after results are tallied?
If the answer is no, let me encourage you to hit pause on your political conversations. Consider what the next week could look like so that November 4th holds no dread, no (or less) animosity, and instead holds promise – even if “your” candidates lose. Plan to vote your conscience, but do it in a way that allows you to also obey as a matter of conscience, regardless of the election outcome.
P.S. I’m not even going to try and address civil disobedience in this reflection. If you want to hear a great explanation of how civil disobedience and Romans 13 intersect, check out Pastor Sung Kim’s sermon from last Sunday.