In 2012, I worked for a political campaign in Florida. Throughout the humid summer months, I mobilized volunteers, staffed call centers, and organized precinct walks. I brainstormed GOTV (get out the vote) strategies and made sure everyone I knew was registered to vote. A passionate believer in the cause, I willingly sacrificed sleep, social capital, and sanity.
In the days preceding the election our campaign worked at a fever pace; we made calls, distributed voter guides, and canvassed nearby precincts to make the final pitch. Finally, on election night we gathered around the TV to watch the results come in.
Within a few hours it became obvious that our candidate was not going to win. In stunned disbelief I watched my candidate concede the election. Emotions of anger, hurt, and frustration washed over me. I don’t drink—and as a Baptist seminarian can’t—but that night I released my cathartic despair by downing all ninety-five grams of sugar contained in a bottle of sparkling cider.
Reflecting on that night and my response to that entire election cycle it’s clear I was not guided by a holistic biblical worldview. Rather, and perhaps unknowingly, I operated out of tribal mindset that prioritized winning a political election over the kingdom of God.
We are in the midst of turbulent times. This is evidenced in many areas but perhaps no more prominently than in the current U.S. Presidential election. For Christians operating out of a Biblical worldview the current cycle has required many to revisit longstanding allegiances and prevailing assumptions.
As Christians prayerfully consider how to engage with the political process I offer what initially might seem an unlikely guide to consider—the apostle Paul.
In Acts 25, Paul is standing trial in Caesarea on trumped up charges of sedition and sacrilege stemming from his teaching on the resurrection of Jesus. Although the trial establishes his innocence, Festus, the Roman governor, suggests a retrial in Jerusalem. Anticipating additional assassination plots against his life Paul invokes his right as a Roman citizen and appeals to Caesar (Acts 25:12).
Paul’s behavior and the motives underlying his decision to appeal to Rome is instructive for Christians engaging in the political process because they underscore two realities: Christians can leverage political capital for Gospel advance and politics are unavoidable.
Christians Can Leverage Political Capitol for Gospel Advance
First of all, Paul demonstrates that Christians can leverage political capital for Gospel advance. Paul’s appeal to Caesar should not be misinterpreted. His appeal is not strictly an exercise in self preservation. By invoking his rights as a Roman citizen, Paul is not simply playing a ‘get-out of-jail-free-card’ to escape Jerusalem. Scripture is clear how Paul viewed his life and calling: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
Paul is not afraid of death. However, Paul sees an opportunity to leverage political capital for the sake and spread of the Gospel. This must be our model. Paul understands that the Christian worldview is holistic and has implications for all areas of life including politics.
By appealing to Caesar, Paul finally gets to go to Rome— a desire that has been on his missionary heart for years. In God’s providence, this apparent setback in ministry is actually the means by which one of Paul’s long-standing goals will be realized.
In the midst of his trial in Caesarea, Paul capitalizes on the opportunity. Thus, “I appeal to Caesar” must be interpreted as a strategic leveraging of the political process of Paul’s day for Gospel advance rather than a cry of retreat or cowardice.
Politics are Unavoidable
Secondly, Paul demonstrates that politics are unavoidable. Unfortunately, many Christians believe that the political process and government is inconsequential to the ministry of the church. They argue that as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) we should concern ourselves exclusively with the work of heaven because the dirty business of politics is somehow beneath us.
Unfortunately, this is a narrow understanding of the kingdom of God. Augustine’s City of God explains that Christians are citizens of the “City of God,” but on this side of eternity also belong to the “City of Man.” Allegiance to both cities is required by a holistic Christian worldview.
In fact, Paul’s appeal to Caesar is a model of this.
Following his appeal, Paul is taken to Rome. Acts concludes with a short anecdote from the apostle’s first days in the capitol (Acts 28:17-24). In the account we see Paul conversing with scores of people, contending for the truth of the Gospel. And remarkably there is fruit— ‘some were convinced by what he said’ (Acts 28:24).
Understanding that politics is unavoidable, Paul leveraged his political capital with the result being countless Gospel conversations. Again, this must be a model for Christians today.
As we engage in the political process (which is only going to heat up as we approach the November 8th election) we need to remember who we are and what politics is—and isn’t.
Whatever political tribe you belong to—Republican, Democrat, Independent— we must understand that tribalism is not a legitimate option for Christians operating from a biblical worldview.
As believers we have a vision that reaches beyond the next election cycle—we have a vision that extends into eternity and that promises co-regency with Christ. Therefore, on election night, our reaction shouldn’t be to chug down a bottle of sparkling cider in despair if our candidate loses. Instead we must endeavor to follow Paul’s example of leveraging everything we can, including politics, to fulfill our mandate of furthering the Gospel.
After all, our hope has never been in the occupant of the Oval Office—our hope is in the risen Savior seated on a throne in heaven.