There’s a billboard near downtown Kansas City. I pass it on a regular basis.
It says “Until Jesus Runs This Town.”
I have to admit, I never read the fine print to see what group is behind the sign, partly because it’s on the highway, and partly because I’m laughing to myself because I always imagine the sign saying, “Until Jesus Ruins This Town.”
Terrible, I know.
A few days ago, several Republican presidential candidates met in Texas, courting the “evangelical” vote. I didn’t follow what was said down there, but I can imagine. Candidates make soundbites, where they affirm how important the evangelical vote is, and Christians show up for the pandering.
Yeah, if there’s one thing as American as baseball and apple pie, it’s political pandering. We love ourselves some pandering.
It’s a perennial theme in American politics, especially when we mix religion and politics. It’s the idea of “taking back America,” of reclaiming America, of placing Jesus in his rightful place atop our governments.
And I wonder, as we wade through what is going to be a very long election cycle, if we even know what we are talking about when we say we want to “take back America.”
Our Votes Cannot Be Bought (Maybe)
In one of my final seminary classes, we listened to a prominent Southern Baptist leader who came to our campus. He boasted that the Baptists had never been, and would never be reduced to a “voting bloc” in America.
In my final essay for the class, I cited the class textbook, which discussed how the endorsement of Virginia’s Baptist preachers was essential for the American congress to ratify the Bill of Rights and therefore the Constitution.
Therefore, I said, Baptists have always been a voting bloc, from the very beginning of the country.
Checkmate, me. I got an A for the class.
I think ever since then, Christian of all stripes have dreamed of running things, calling the shots, making the king bow and kiss our rings while he pays tribute. And since we don’t see that happening today, we think we have to take it back.
To take it back means we have to band together. We have to become a “united army.”
What Do We Think Would Happen If We “Took it Back”?
It’s not a new idea. Jesus’ own disciples thought he was going to take up his throne, run Jerusalem and kick the Romans out. Time and again, Jesus dodges the crowds because he can sense their desire to “make him king.”
I wonder what we think would happen if we “took back America.” I assume that means we elect a guy who sees things our way.
Do we think that all of the laws we don’t like would suddenly be overturned?
Do we believe that all of the behaviors we don’t like would suddenly be outlawed?
Do we honestly believe that America would suddenly become a more righteous, more just nation? I think our fantasy probably is more about lower taxes and more “freedom” for the people most like us (and less freedom for the people less like us.) I doubt we are really thinking about “liberty and justice for all” in our revolutionary daydreams, but that’s just a hunch.
Does anyone realize that to remake America the way we see fit would take an absurd amount of “executive orders,” and dare I say, our “taking back America” would look a lot like a tyrant on a throne.
We Need a Jesus That’s Electable
I’ll be honest, I don’t understand.
I do not understand how people can be so gullible.
Do we really think that electing a particular person to government is going to suddenly remake America? I don’t understand how every election cycle, people can be so enthusiastic, even though they are let down every time.
Mostly though, I don’t understand what their Christianity must look like. I don’t understand this American Jesus who tries to win elections. I don’t understand this Jesus who is thirsting for power and authority, who is waiting to “run this town.” I don’t understand this Jesus who is gearing up to take it all back and make sure the bad people stay out and the good, Christian, middle-class people stay in.
I don’t understand this Jesus, because he is foreign to me. I don’t find him in the Bible. The Jesus I find says that people will hate his followers on account of him. The Jesus I find the in the Bible lays down his authority. The Jesus I find heals and feeds people and then demands that his followers keep their mouths shut!
But then again, that kind of Jesus doesn’t really appeal to us, does it?