There’s no question that culture is changing rapidly.
Occasionally, you realize things are changing in real time. Take, for example, the 2016 US Presidential election.
It simply feels like we’re waking up to a new reality, both politically and culturally. One for which few of us feel prepared.
As a Canadian who majored in US history and politics, who has spent a lot of time in the US over the years and whose audience is largely American, I have more than a passing interest in what happens south of the border because I have so much affection for our US friends and neighbours. I completely agree with fellow Canadian Ann Voskamp, who wrote a wonderful piece on why we, as Canadians, love America and have hope in her future.
I also have many American friends. In fact, some of my very closest friends are American. I simply love the drive, positive attitude and relentless determination to make things better that so many Americans exude. So I’m coming at this as a fan…and, I hope, a friend.
Which is why, like so many of you, I’m watching what’s happening around the current Presidential election with some natural surprise, fear and a bit of shock.
What I hear almost universally from my American friends on all sides of the political spectrum is that they don’t want to vote for any candidate. While that line has been around for decades, I think it has hit with acute intensity in this election.
Amidst all the discussion around the 2016 Presidential election, here are five (kind of) predictions I see around the election and (best of all) for the church.
1. There will be a renewed interest in the sovereignty of God
It’s easy to think that if your party doesn’t win, or your viewpoint isn’t represented in the halls of power, that somehow God has let you down. I get that.
I’ve watched as my country reflects my personal beliefs and values less and less. It’s not all bad, but it’s certainly not what it could be.
The truth is, God has continued to work out his purposes for the world under every condition imaginable, from Egypt to Babylon to Rome, through world wars and in every circumstance. Is it all good? Absolutely not. But that hasn’t thwarted God or his ultimate plan of redemption one bit.
For many Christians, though, it feels as if matters have finally been taken out of our hands. But when you feel that way, you should never conclude those matters have been taken from God’s hands. That’s just not true.
God birthed the church in the era of Nero. God’s plans have survived every faithful and unfaithful leader in human history because they are HIS plans.
The sovereignty of God is, well, sovereign. I believe preachers will talk about that more as a result of this election.
Sovereignty is not fatalism. But it is hope. It testifies to God’s faithfulness in the past despite our lack of faithfulness. And God’s faithfulness in the past is evidence of God’s faithfulness in the future.
2. The church will look to Christ more and to the state less
Having a government that doesn’t fully embrace Christian values actually puts Christians in some great company—the company of the earliest followers of Jesus.
No Roman government ever embraced the teachings of Jesus or scripture.
And if you study it carefully, Jesus spent zero time asking the government to change during his ministry. In fact, people asked him to become the government, and he replied that his Kingdom is not of this world.
The Apostle Paul appeared before government officials regularly. Not once did he ask them to change the laws of the land.
He did, however, invite government officials to have Jesus personally change them.
As Christendom continues to disappear in front of us, the gap between what Christians believe and what political parties endorse will continue to grow.
And ultimately, if God has all the same opinions your political party does anyway, you’re probably not worshipping God.
3. Living out your values will become more important than ever
Christians are increasingly finding themselves in new territory as a counter-cultural force, which is where we’ve often been at our best over the last two thousand years.
We’re going to feel an increase in the pressure to ensure we live out what we say we believe, not just in terms of our moral choices, but in terms of how we treat others.
That’s not all bad. After all, living out your values beats legislating your values.
I’m not saying laws should be immoral. But I am saying you can’t legislate the human heart. Laws tend to reflect what people believe. And what people believe has shifted. No law can bring back an ethic that doesn’t live in the hearts of people.
That’s the problem we’ve seen accelerate over the last 50 years. Starting in the 60s, our moral values began radically changing. It took government a few decades to reflect the changes that were happening in people’s lives.
Today, the laws reflect what many people believe. It’s just not what most Christians believe. But most of America (like Canada), is becoming post-Christian.
So how do you change that? Well, if you have enough people live out their values, it has a way of trickling up to the halls of power.
Change what people believe, and eventually the laws will catch up. True revolutions always start from below.
4. The tone of public discourse will either get worse… or better
Perhaps what’s been most shocking about the election is the decline in the tone of the debate and the refusal of candidates to back away from actions that most would consider immoral.
If you want to see how much has changed in a few decades, watch the first five minutes of the 1988 Presidential Debate, and contrast that to what we’re seeing today. The contrast could hardly be starker.
While Saturday Night Live may be providing some much-appreciated therapy around the current debates, the surprise, of course, is that it’s sometimes hard to tell which is the parody and which is the actual event. The discourse has sunk that low.
So is it the candidates, or is it the people who have driven the discourse to this new bottom?
I think the answer is both.
Have you noticed what’s happened on social media? People behave on social media the way we sometimes behave on highways. Put a human being in a two-ton vehicle, and we behave with aggression and recklessness we would never show person to person.
Imagine seeing someone drive their shopping cart in a grocery store the way you sometimes see people drive on the highway. It’s a little unthinkable. Why? Because you can look someone in the eye. Because there isn’t a giant metal barricade between you… only a few pieces of wire and some wheels we call a shopping cart.
Social media makes people behave like bad drivers. We forget there are actually people around us with feelings, hearts and lives. We forget the people we’re angry with are actually made in the image of God.
With public dialogue as bad as it is right now, there is plenty of room for grace and hope.
Future leaders can call out the best in people or call out the worst. It could go either way.
Come on, good people. Come on, good candidates.
Raise the level of public discourse. Be that hope. Be that grace.
And honestly, let it start, dear reader, with us.
5. The work of the local church will be more important than ever
As bleak as things feel at times, this is a great opportunity for the church to be church.
Some of our best moments have happened during a crisis.
You know the C.S. Lewis classic, Mere Christianity, so many Christians love?
It actually didn’t start as a book. It began as a series of radio addresses given by the then relatively unknown C.S. Lewis when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany in 1941. You can read the story here.
The free world was looking for hope, and it found hope in Lewis and the message of the Gospel.
Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer emerged as a distinctly Christian voice of challenge and hope in the midst of the rise of the Third Reich.
The government can never do the work of the church, and it can never be the voice of the church. Only the church can be the church, and our culture deeply needs the church to be the church.
What Do You See?
I realize discussing politics can be a contentious issue. I’m far more interested in the implications for the church than anything.
In that vein, what opportunities do you see, or what predictions do you have for the ministry of the church?