I had a hard time averting my eyes from the TV the other day when the GOP presidential debate was on. My friend didn’t watch and she wondered why I cared. After all, none of those candidates move me very much, and long ago I forfeited the prospect that a president could save me. But I am always interested in how the leaders, or at least our prospective leaders, are selling their version salvation. What are they saying will save us? I don’t think they are so explicit about this, but I do think they generally tell us that they are the answer to our problems, and can even save us from evil.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were arguing about who was tougher on immigration. But even best immigration policy won’t save you. And if you aren’t hospitable to the stranger and the immigrant (with papers or not), I don’t really know if the Kingdom of God is for you anyway.
Security though isn’t the only way our leaders are selling us salvation. Despite my left-leaning proclivities, even the best policy for income distribution won’t free me. Bernie is wrong when he tells Killer Mike, “To be truly free, you need economic rights as well.” I think financial inequality in the U.S. is a huge problem and sin (see here and here), but I don’t think my freedom comes when I sort that all out (as if I can wait for that to happen). To be truly free, I start my answer with faith. Beyond economics though, even the most common sense gun laws won’t save us (nor will the most guns). Even effective prison and law enforcement reform won’t do it (nor will prisons, the law, or police either).
Some of these things might cause us some good, but I’m moving toward Jesus and the cross for my salvation and for my freedom. I think the church, in general, would do better to focus on how Jesus is changing the world instead of getting mired in a political debate. I’m not saying this because I think all of the political parties and candidates are created equally, I certainly have my favorites, but I don’t want to ever confuse politics with salvation.
But every now and then one of the politicians says something and Christians get on board with it so hardcore forgetting what saves them, I have to speak out. Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from immigrating into the U.S. was alarming for me. I was a little selfishly concerned, because I think I look Muslim.
One problem with Trump's anti-Muslim comments: faith is not a genotypical. And if it were, you'd think I was Muslim.
— Jonny Rashid (@Jonnyrashid) December 10, 2015
I said this last week, but my family was oppressed in the moderate Muslim theocracy that they grew up in. In fact, such persecution was one of the reasons they immigrated to the U.S. In the U.S., they failed to escape such persecution, but for quite a different reason. It wasn’t a matter of their faith, it was just because they looked foreign, spoke with an accent, and might have been observed as “terrorists.”
As a well-assimilated American, I honestly don’t experience the same kind of prejudice my parents do. I have privileges that they don’t. I don’t really speak with an accent, I am educated and articulate, and I blend well with my white friends (sometimes I have to remind them that I am, indeed, a person of color). I’m often reminded of my skin color by law enforcement and other people who are profiling people that look like me, but I admit, it’s not as bad for me as it is for others.
Despite this, conservative brown Christians who are ready to sign up for a police state in the name of their security surround me. My opinion is that relying on the state to save you is nothing short of idolatry.
The exchange that many people, especially oppressed brown Christians, are willing to make is trading their freedom for the promise that they’ll be saved. Many brown Christians, like my parents, have been oppressed by theocrats in the Middle East and are afraid of terrorists invading their new homeland and killing them here. I understand the worry and the fear. It’s a real fear, and terroristic violence, often done in the name of Allah, the Koran, and Islam, is not easy to understand or deal with. The presidential candidates are out of good ideas, too. But it seems to me like Americans want to be safe and saved, which I think explains why Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are so popular.
Like I said above, the best law and the best policy won’t save us, only Jesus will. That knowledge alone doesn’t change the fact that we can still be ruled by our fear, that our anxiety still haunts us, and that our instinct is to self-protect. I’m not sure how serious all of the threats are, and I think the media makes most of its money off of making stuff up, but people’s fear is still real. But Jesus offers us salvation today, by giving us a Way to live out the Kingdom of God; he saves us eternally, by saving us from death as he conquered it on the cross and through his resurrection. We have nothing to fear now.
I hope Christians and the Church at large can be a calming presence in the middle of the chaos. I hope we don’t idolatrously turn to the state to give us the salvation that the incarnated Christ already gave us. The law won’t save us or free us, and that’s the absolute truth. Keeping Muslims out of the U.S. (or the Oval Office) isn’t our path to safety; the only thing we can turn to is Jesus. So as we observe the election shenanigans over the next few months, remember that you know the ultimate leader. He is your liberator and savior, not whoever wins this God-forsaken election.