For the past few weeks–months, really–something has been bubbling up inside of me. Over the weekend, it came to a boil. I think the Spirit is urging me to speak about something, so I have spent a lot of time praying, asking for the right words, and opening my heart to the wisdom of God. In a culture like ours, when listening seems to be a dying art, I sincerely hope this message penetrates the noise.
But first, a story.
In Genesis 25, we meet a pair of twin brothers named Jacob and Esau. Their father was Isaac, their mother was Rebekah, and Esau was born with the “birthright.”
Esau was impulsive, and Jacob, a schemer, was gunning for his brother’s blessing. One afternoon, Esau came in “famished” from his work, so he asked Jacob to share some of his pottage. Jacob, seeing an opportunity, pounced: “First sell me your birthright” (v. 31)
Esau was too hungry to grasp what Jacob was asking, so he persisted, “Look, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?” (v. 32) Jacob happily gave Esau his pottage, Esau satisfied his hunger, and the chapter ends with these words: “So Esau despised his birthright” (v. 34) In his commentary on Genesis, Bruce Waltke summarizes the final verse this way: “Esau lacks faith and lives for the moment. To his nearsighted vision, the birthright appears meaningless.” (p. 364)
This story is a metaphor for many things. Most often, Christians trade the “birthright” we have in Christ–peace, joy, security, abundance, life–for the gratification of momentary desires. Whether it’s materialism, dating the wrong person, or landing a self-righteous “I told you so,” the desire for immediate satisfaction makes us too “nearsighted” to see the long-term good. And then, what we’re left with is much less than we had before.
Whatever form this “temptation of the immediate” takes, it’s in all of us. We all know the appeal of instant gratification, which means we also know how it endangers our character. Just look at Facebook. Every day, Christians trade their integrity and their credibility for winning an argument, defending their opinion, or putting someone in their place. I’ve done it. We all do it. It’s too easy not to.
However, this political season has heightened the temptation, and amplified its consequences. Every day I log onto social media and watch Christians degrade themselves by defending the despicable actions of candidates. I watch Christian leaders throw their credibility out the window, by attaching their names and their ministries to candidates who will surely betray them. Then I shutdown my computer, turn off my phone, and I wonder:
Once this election is over, will we have a shred of integrity to stand on?
Now, here’s the thing–let’s be clear eyed about who is really behind this. We have an Enemy, and he is cunning. One of his most popular lies is all over the place right now, this idea of “the lesser of two evils.” This concept isn’t a problem when it simply refers to two bad options, but when we are talking about ACTUAL EVIL (and here I’m talking about issues, not people), there is no such thing as a lesser one. God NEVER permits us to consort with evil. Ever. To choose a lesser evil is to still choose evil.
That’s why Satan is delighted for Christians to choose any evil, even a lesser one. In order to choose a “lesser of two evils,” Christians end up minimizing an evil, or denying something is really evil, in order to make it more palatable to their conscience. Christians also end up pitting goods against one another, as if we cannot have all goods together in Christ. This, again, is the work of our Enemy, who most notably uses the good of defending unborn children to undermine other goods.
The Enemy’s logic is twisted, and participating in it is only to our shame. But that is what happens when we let the world determine the terms by which we live. We end up lowering ourselves and diminishing our witness. We dull our imaginations and choose only the options given to us. We choose practical over gospel. We choose short term winning over long-term cultural relevance. We choose pottage over birthright.
Friends, hear me when I say this: I am deeply concerned about the damage we are doing to our witness. The longer I watch Christians defend or justify racism, misogyny, violence, lying, hatred, or fear-mongering, the more I am convinced of the Enemy’s ploy:
The Enemy’s chief aim may not be a political outcome, but undermining the credibility of the church.
I feel this conviction deep in my bones. We are giving. it. away. We are giving away our credibility for a short-term goal that WILL NOT deliver. And you know what, that might be the thing that amazes me most–I watch Christians stake their entire credibility on politicians they admit, with their own lips, are unreliable. Christians are betting it all on candidates that are a bad bet. And when it’s over, when the candidate does exactly what their character predicts they will do, our reputations will be meaningless.
That is why I am stepping back from the fray and campaigning for something else entirely. From here on out, I am banging my drum for the integrity of our faith. Who we are, as the people of God, matters too much. We cannot risk losing the trust of the world God came to save. We cannot be a people without character. After this election is said and done, I want our words to still mean something. I want it to mean something when we say that character counts. I want it to mean something when we speak of justice, peace, reconciliation, and love. I want it to mean something when we talk about compassion, grace, or holiness. I want it to mean something when we say we follow Jesus.
So, I am asking you to join me in a different campaign. This election season, I am campaigning for character. I am campaigning for humility. I am campaigning for wisdom. I am campaigning for compassion. I am campaigning for peace. I am campaigning for honoring God.
That is my campaign. So now I am asking you: will you join me? Will you join me in…
…rising above the terms of the debate.
…condemning hypocrisy in ourselves and our leaders.
…refusing to degrade ourselves with name calling, mud-slinging, fear-mongering, or hate spreading.
…refusing to associate ourselves with ANY evil, even lesser ones.
…committing ourselves to the teachings of Jesus, conducting ourselves according to the fruit of the Spirit, and settling for nothing less.
…being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
…refusing to compromise on evil, because Jesus never asks us to.
…washing our hands of worldly power struggles.
Will you join me in opposing racism AND abortion AND poverty AND violence AND adultery AND misogyny AND dishonesty AND corruption AND hate, equally?
This election season, that is what I am campaigning for. I am campaigning for character, because I care about the integrity of the church, I care about the world we are called to love, and most of all I care about Christ. Are we free to vote? Yes. I believe we can engage this process as Christians. But, as my husband put it to me, let’s not do it as people so starved for power that we discard our integrity along the way.
I hope you will join me in this campaign to preserve our character. As far as I’m concerned, the Enemy can take his pottage elsewhere.
***UPDATE: Since posting this, a number of readers have asked me if I think Christians can vote for either of the leading candidates with a clear conscience. I’ll share what I wrote to one commenter:
“I think a lot of that comes down to your personal convictions. I know a lot of Christians who are voting third party or writing in a candidate, and I feel very sympathetic to that, because I think the integrity of the church has the most lasting influence.
“Mostly though, I would like to see Christians stop falling over themselves trying to justify why one or the other candidate is the Christian choice.”