Peter Enns provides a great commentary on a healthy Scripturally-based attitude toward politics. Many misconstrue what the Anabaptist understanding of the relationship between church and state should be. They think that we are complete separatists who think we should be completely tuned out of what is going on around us. Admittedly, at some points in our history, that has been the case. But I will point to the early Anabaptists as well as many since then who have claimed very similar to what Enns is saying in this post.
The main question we need to ask when getting involved with politics is this: “where do you put your hope?” It is not about rules, whether we are allowed as Christians to hold office or even to vote. It is about, as Enns describes it, establishing a rival eschatology. You might be confused if you think eschatology simply means “apocalyptic end of the world scenario.” It is a lot bigger than that – it is the way that the current ways of doing things will end. As Enns defines it:
Eschatology means: “We have brought you to where things are as they should be. You are at the place where you can now–finally–have reason to hope. Trust in us. Fear not.” Eschatology means the pinacle of true humanity, where wrongs are righted, all is at peace, and the human drame comes to its fullest expression.
Every political system and even every politician promises this fixing of the world or at least the nation. They don’t succeed, although some will do more good than others, and they never will. When we find ourselves as Christians buying into it, we are accepting their eschatology. Politicians may play a small part in a Christian eschatology, but they do not offer a real eschatology. Enns draws on the early church and how their eschatology rivalled Rome’s:
“This is what the first Christians were taught about the Roman Empire, which promised its citizens peace, grace, justice, protection from enemies–all of which was called “salvation” (that’s the word that was used at the time). The Gospel offered an “alternate eschatology,” where the goods were delivered, not though the power of the state but through suffering and enthronement of King Jesus.”
So we are not saying that you shouldn’t vote. We are not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to debates. We are not saying that you should ignore the political system entirely. What we are saying is that you shouldn’t place your hope in any particular politician or any particular nation to be the saviour of the world. That’s Jesus’ role, not Obama’s, not Romney’s, not America’s, not anybody else’s. If you are starting to feel like everything is lost if that other guy gets into office, that’s a sign you are putting your hope in the wrong place. Feel free to take part in politics so long as you remember that it will not solve the world’s problems. God’s Kingdom will not be established through the right person getting into office, and it will not be lost if the wrong person gets in instead.