We can categorize the 2008 election season with one word: Change. The word rings with the hope of a better tomorrow, and who doesn’t want hope?
As a Christian pastor, I have a higher calling than politics, but let me be quick to say that politics do matter and there are real issues I am concerned about. We should vote wisely, and, as American citizens, do all we can for America to prosper and become morally strong. If the decent people of America opt out of the political process, then when poor, corrupt and ineffective government is the result, they have no one to blame but themselves. But truthfully, the actual percentage of life in America that a politician, even a president, is capable of changing is very small. We must fight these battles, but political wars in democracies are the kind of fights where the opposition is never fully vanquished, where he is always regrouping for another battle.
There is another way, however, we Christians can make an impact on America—by being agents of transformation in society as we are transformed spiritually into the image of Christ. We are the only ones, in fact, who can do this. Chuck Colson was an insider in the Nixon White House, became a Christian during the Watergate scandal and now leads a worldwide prison ministry. He observed how much more effective he is today as an agent of real change, winning prisoners to Christ, than he was serving in government, dealing with political issues and heads of state.
Jacques Ellul, a French evangelical philosopher, wrote The Political Illusion in 1973, but it speaks to current politics as if it just came off the press. He observed the government, serving its own self interests, often exaggerates its power so people will give it more power. And the press, serving its own self-interests, also makes the government seem more powerful, so magazines and newspapers can sell subscriptions and television news shows are watched. So, politics and the media are driven by special-interest groups seeking some control over human destiny. Ellul concludes that voluntary associations, especially those associations that seek to do good in the name of God, really hold nations and cultures together. When Christians link our hearts and hands together willingly for the sake of Christ and seek to make a difference in people’s lives, then we are in truth much more powerful than the government. As Christ said, we—not the government—are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Of course, government is important, and a free press is essential for democracy, for only an informed people are a free people. But only in Christ will this world be made whole and right. We Christians are wise if we remember we should never be completely at home in this world. For only as we have the model kingdom of God and his values and his character before us, as well as his Spirit living within us, are we able to wisely impact our world. The most lasting and enduring changes happen through Christians touching others with the Savior’s love.
Mr. Hiram was a black janitor in my home church who endeared himself to many young people because of his Christlike spirit and encouraging words. When he heard I had surrendered to the ministry as a teenager, he gave me words I have never forgotten, “A preacher is more important than the president.” If we had to choose between politicians and preachers, we would do better to have more God-called and anointed preachers than politicians.
So, vote wisely, vote your Christian conscience, and if you are involved in politics, serve wisely and sincerely. Our nation needs godly people in government. But after you vote, realize your job as a Christian is not complete until you have sought to live for Christ as well. We can far more substantially change America by sharing the hope of Christ and by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Through sharing Christ, ministering to people in need, touching lives with his love, encouraging, helping people stand on their feet, spreading the hope of God among society, and living compassionate and generous lives, we can really make a difference and truly change America.
David Packer is pastor of International Baptist Church in Dusseldorf, Germany. Previously, he served as a missionary in Southeast Asia for 20 years and was pastor of First Baptist Church in Marshall.