This is an email sent to my congregation in St. Louis, MO. It is an attempt to provide pastoral guidance and perspective to our congregation when so many people are frustrated, angry, and confused. With my colleagues, Pastor Bobby Walston and Pastor Paul Dickerson, we desire for our people to follow Christ faithfully in days of uncertainty.
In a contentious election week, your pastors desire to share a response to some common statements we hear. Our heart is for you. Our desire is for you to walk faithfully in Christ, without fear or despair. Our role is not to advocate for a political system. We are pastors. Our calling is higher, to guide you in the ways of God that you might walk faithfully in service to him.
The Doctrine of Two Kingdoms
We’ve heard statements that infer that the Kingdom of God and America are one in the same. We reject this notion, which gives us great freedom. The kingdom of God does not depend on our vote.
We hold to a classic Lutheran distinction called the doctrine of two kingdoms. The kingdom of the left is when God rules through law and the state. The right hand kingdom is the reign and rule of God in Christ, governed by forgiveness and salvation.
When we pray for “daily bread,” we’re praying for God’s rule in the kingdom of the left. Good government, faithful leaders, etc. When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we’re praying for an even greater rule. That Jesus would establish more and more each day his reign of mercy and bring to completion his plan of salvation among us.
While God works in both ways, the two kingdoms are not to be confused. Thankfully, America is not the kingdom of God. God has a greater horizon.
Our True Citizenship
We have heard language that mingles spirituality and patriotism. “The soul of America depends on this election.” If our soul depended on this election, God help us. We recognize the importance of this election. We take seriously our civic vocation and the importance of voting. We certainly care about our country. But our soul has a higher aim than America.
Christians in China, Syria, and Saudi Arabia remind us that no nation is fully our home. We are “sojourners and exiles” (I Peter 2:11). “Our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:20). We do not despair when a nation is in turmoil because our souls are fixated on “a better country, a heavenly one,” where Christ is all in all (Heb. 11:16). This is a time for Christians to reject fear and bear witness to our greater hope.
No political party fully encompasses the values of the church.
We have heard it said: “_______ is the most Christian political party.” We believe it’s dangerous for the church to align with a political party and thus confuse the two kingdoms. We believe no political party fully encompasses all the values that Christians advocate.
In his article “Five Features That Made the Early Church Unique,” Tim Keller highlights the key marks of the early church that distinguished them from Roman society. The early church lived these values:
Multi-racial (Acts 13, Gal. 3:28). God in Christ made one family of people, reconciled to him by his blood. Early Christians championed equality and challenged division of class and race.
Care for the poor and oppressed. They gave special attention to “the least of these.” (Lk 10:25-37, Acts 2:45). Foreigners, orphans, and widows (James 1:27, Deut. 10:18-19).
Sanctity of Life. The fifth commandment called them to value life. Death is an assault on the Creator. Not only death by abortion (which was rare in the first century), but neglect of infants and the vulnerable (which was more common in the first century).
Countercultural sexual ethic. Christians defied social norms by claiming the exclusivity of marriage, and sex within marriage (Matt. 19:4-6). They claimed marriage to be a selfless relationship of sacrificial love (Eph. 5:31-33). Sex was not a mere animal appetite to be fed (Matt. 5:27-30).
The church crosses party lines when we uphold all of these values. Political parties do not set the Christian agenda. Jesus does.
It’s Time to Love Those Unlike Us
Your pastors hear stories of strife between families, friends, and neighbors instigated by political discourse. “____________ is driving me crazy! We can’t even talk to each other because of all this political stuff.”
God’s desire is that we love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). ESPECIALLY those not like us.
Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same?” (Matt. 5:46) Talk with those unlike you. Listen to those who have a different perspective.
This moment is a test of our fidelity to the Great Commandment. So repent often. Humble yourself. Be generous and hospitable. Care for the person even if you don’t care for their politics. In this way we demonstrate the radical nature of our Lord.
No Candidate is Blameless
We have heard concerns over Democratic candidate’s pro-choice stance. We have heard dismay over the Republican candidate’s vulgarity, arrogance, and adultery.
We uphold the doctrine of original sin. It comes as no surprise that neither candidate is blameless. Neither candidate is “the Christian candidate.” Every election is between sinfully flawed candidates.
So what should you do? As pastors, our role is not to persuade people to vote a particular way. Our responsibility is to guide you in the ways of God, and help you follow him faithfully.
Consider our core biblical convictions.
Consider the candidates and platforms.
Ask, “What does the most good for my neighbor?” (Mark 12:30-31)
Humbly examine your conscience.
Then trust God’s sovereign rule.
What Happens After the Election?
When we pray “thy kingdom come and thy will be done,” we know that God answers. We may question the results of the election. Your ballot may not win. Yet on November 4th and January 20th, 2021, God will continue to bring his Kingdom and do his will. No election negates this fact.
Regardless of who is elected, we will do as Christians have always done. We will pray for our leaders and ask God for just and righteous rule (I Tim. 2:1-2).
Our Allegiance is to Christ Alone.
Our Lord demands our all, above family and country (Luke 14:27,33). We are disciples of Jesus before we are American. Christ is our banner, above our nation’s flag. We must resist all idols, whether patriotism, a political party, or a desire for power.
When 2020 is a footnote in the earth’s history, Christ will still be King on the eternal throne. “He purchased and won you . . . not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that you may be his own and live under him in his kingdom.”
In Christian Hope,
Pastor Jeff Cloeter Pastor Bobby Walston Pastor Paul Dickerson
10/29/2020 10:36:46 am
Thank you for a thoughtful and well-written commentary in the midst of this election season.
10/29/2020 02:35:46 pm
Thanks, John. Blessings as you lead in this time.
10/30/2020 01:41:27 am
Thank you. We ALL needed to hear this.
Thomas K. Wilson
10/29/2020 10:46:12 am
What a reminder of our true allegiance. God works wonders, and sometimes increases our faith in times when we're feeling persecuted. Those who profess themselves to be champions of Christianity should (and could) advocate for God's will being done instead of aligning themselves with, or supporting, a specific candidate.
10/29/2020 02:36:37 pm
Thanks, Tom. Yeah, I'm looking for God to increase our faith during this time. "Stressed grapes make good wine." We'll be refined by the year 2020.
10/29/2020 01:58:00 pm
Thanks Jeff, for your spiritual perspective. Much thought went into your missive.
10/29/2020 02:37:26 pm
10/29/2020 10:20:54 pm
Thank you, Jeff, for your thoughtful and wise reflections. I greatly appreciate the gentle, non-legalistic guidance supported by scriptural references. Your postings are frequently thought-provoking and challenge me to grow in my faith and have provided hope when I’ve been discouraged by this fractured world. I do take issue withe the previous comment by Jack Pfitzer regarding the “Prayer for the Nation.” The opening sentence betrays an incredible insensitivity to our indigenous brothers and sisters who are still bearing the scars of the “gift of this land” as our heritage. This is white privilege at its worst, and you and I share a genetic connection to that history that for me has been difficult to unpack. What was once a source of pride has become something of a badge of shame. How does one justify sharing the good news of salvation when at the same time it dehumanized a people and destroyed a culture? When is it appropriate to recognize the sin, ask for forgiveness, and repair the injustice?
10/30/2020 10:24:02 pm
Did you know that in 1954 the Baptists supported Hitler. I wish that pastors would do their jobs of informing people what the bible says on each of the policies each platform stands. There is a very clear choice of which way a christian should vote! Don't vote personality...vote Bible! It tells us what God thinks about abortion; Psalm 139:13-14, Leviticus18:21, Jeremiah 32:25, marriage; Gen 1:27, 2:18, 22, 24, Matt 19:13,16, guns;Nehemiah 4:16,17, Luke 22:36,38, education; Deut 6:6,7, Joshua 4, Ephes 6:4, capitalism; 2Thes, Gen 3:19, Matt 16:15, rights of conscience; 2 Tim 4:2, Acts 20:26,27, separation of church/state; NOT IN THE BIBLE, judges; Gen 9:6, Rom 3:3,4 borders; Deut 32:8, Isaiah 66:18, Acts 17:26, Zach 14:16-18, Rev 12:5, Rev 20:3, environment: Gen 1:26-28, Psalm 8:4-6, Matt 6:26,27, Matt 12:12, Gen 8:22, New World Order: Gen 11:6, and Israel; Gen 12:3, 1 Kings 11:32.The role of the government is to provide law and order, not care for the poor. That's the role of the church. God didn't miss a thing. One platform is God's way. This country could be tragically transformed within the next 100 days!
Rev Jeff Hemingway
10/31/2020 03:44:00 pm
While true to the letter of the law it is becoming tiresome having to stretch your faith to the point of apostasy to vote at all. It is sad and again, to remain short, to constantly be forced to choose the lesser of two evils. Since Christ will never be on the ballot this is to be expected but never in Scripture does it say that we should concede to murder for the sake of convenience or welcome people as equals who demonstrate a hatred of God. So, by all means Americans who live in one nation under God, vote your souls conscience for the best possible candidate for this and the next generation. God be with you as you do.
11/6/2020 12:32:52 pm
Great statements, but what about each candidates stance on same-sex marriage, and what does God say about that?
11/15/2020 03:07:11 pm
Thank you so much for the thought, research, prayer & time involved in your letter! Your congregation is blessed indeed! This was forwarded to me by a retired St. Cloud pastor as I was expressing my frustration over hurtful, outlandish comments coming from fellow church members! SO many mis-nomers picked up and believed as truth! I've had to search my own heart and soul through this racial conflict, and realize my "white privilege" is a real thing! Not that I ever intended it to be! Sin is sin! No one political party is perfect as you state!! Thanks for helping me feel I'm not alone in my beloved Synod! My late husband, an LCMS pastor and chaplain, would definitely applaud your letter, I'm sure! I pray our church as a Synod with God's guidance will help quell the discourse! Yes, "Thy will be done!" God bless you!
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