For many American Christians, this election has severed traditional political loyalties that have anchored them. This could be a good thing, especially if it prompts us to inquire freshly into how the biblical story applies to American society. Perhaps during this election month we can make some sweeping decisions about how we will think and live after the election. We can revisit our political involvement in light of scripture, and ask ourselves how we as Christians can model a new way of living in community.
Not only at the polling booth but also beyond this election, Christ’s followers should be guided by the biblical story. The Bible narrates Christ’s restoring purposes for his world. Scripture unfolds the true story of the world – it even tells us the story’s ending! Voting out of a sense of our own place in the biblical story moves our politics beyond party lines to seek policy that reflects Christ’s purposes for his world.
So much in scripture is relevant to this discussion, but for the purposes of this short article we’ll focus on Moses’ teaching in Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy might be a surprising choice, but it makes sense as a biblical example for politics because it is the “national charter” for ancient Israel – Deuteronomy set the agenda for their nation.
Deuteronomy called ancient Israel to live as kin with one another (Deut 14:28-29; 15:2, 7; 16:11, 14; 24:14-15). People were to treat each another as family. As family, everyone was to be given the opportunity to flourish, especially the slave, the widow, the refugee, and the orphan. As Christ’s followers, we are called to discern: which policies are calling our community to care for one another as family, and to count a cost for others?
Here are six other relevant themes that emerge from this Old-Testament book:
1. Caring for Creation
In Deuteronomy, the land and its abundance are gifted by Yahweh. So the creation is sacred Deut 7:13; 8:10; 16:13-15). Arguably, climate change is the pressing concern facing this generation. We didn’t start it, but we are now responsible for it.
2. Protecting the Vulnerable
Scripture always places the “weakest” at the center. In Deuteronomy God demands: “There shall be no poor among you” (Deut 15:4). God does not desire a “great” or “prosperous” nation so much as a nation that lives well together, helping the most vulnerable: those who are poor, mentally ill, incarcerated, or sick. Vulnerability at the beginning of life and the end of life is also important; abortion and assisted death should concern us deeply.
3. Governing Responsibly
Deuteronomy provides instructions for the offices of the state: judiciary, king, priesthood, and prophet. These office holders must be fair (Deut 16:18-20), they must not seek power or notoriety (Deut 17:20), and they must protect the most vulnerable (Deut 1:16-18). Compare leaders to these standards of responsible, fair, and humble governance.
4. Welcoming Strangers
Deuteronomy commanded ancient Israel to “love the stranger” (Deut 10:19). To “love the stranger” literally meant to have a covenant commitment to the stranger (Deut 10:15-19). This is the strongest possible language for including displaced people within a community as full participants (Deut 16:11, 14; 31:10-12). The Bible calls us to offer a radical welcome to refugees and to other immigrants who are seeking a home.
5. Resisting Racism
In Deuteronomy, every person in the land was to be treated as a sister and a brother (Deut 1:16-17; 16:11, 14). This included servants, many of whom were foreigners (5:12-15). This is God’s desire for all of humanity (Matt 5:21-24; Gal 3:28; Rev 7:9). Christians should nurture politics that dignify every ethnic group and especially those with less power.
6. Servant-Hearted Patriotism
God gives life to every person, in love. Because of God’s love for every person, all nations have a responsibility toward others (Deut 10:17-18). Throughout history, tragically, God’s good gift of nationhood has been corrupted by nationalism, which makes an idol of the nation. Scripture invites us to embrace servant-hearted patriotism: one does need to love one’s country less in order to love other nations more.
Perhaps our present political moment is the Spirit’s invitation to discern freshly how the biblical story encounters American society. As for me, I don’t pray for a Christian America, for that phrase continues to do damage to the reputation of Christ across the globe. Rather, I pray for mustard seeds: that the Spirit would continue to cultivate humble worshipping communities who discern the idols of our culture, living in solidarity with the marginalized, and emanating the joy of Christ into their neighborhoods.
Mark Glanville teaches at the Missional Training Centre in Phoenix and pastors at Grandview Calvary Church in Vancouver. A longer version of this article was published by Evangelicals for Social Action.
artwork based on Gustave Doré, 1832–1883, Moses Breaks the Tables of the Law