Declaring the Lordship of Christ at the communion table
Last night, we had a pre-election prayer and communion where we once again declared the death of Christ until he returns again. The table is a reminder that Jesus is our Lord regardless of the election outcomes. And I woke up to anxiety of the present day with the reassurance that Jesus is still Lord, even if Joe Biden wins, or worse, if Donald Trump manages to. This may seem like an empty platitude from a Christian, especially when Christians seem to cry out more for partisan reconciliation than racial reconciliation, but it’s more than that. The challenge of this moment for Christians is to be able to both name the manifest evils of the Trump Administration, while also acknowledging that liberation from Trump is hardly the liberation that Jesus Christ brings to us. In other words, Joe Biden may replace Donald Trump, but he is not going to replace Jesus as Lord.
I am saying that to myself as much as anyone else. I haven’t been shy about my disdain for the President, but it was unprecedented for me to make my choice to vote for Joe Biden so apparent. I hope I never face such an apparent moral decision again when it comes to an election. I remember in previous elections, for example, the one between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I found the choice between these two to be fairly negligible (in fact, Barack Obama’s hallmark health care bill was largely similar to the one that Romney had employed in Massachusetts). If you search this very blog for the name of Mitt Romney, I offer no utterance, except for the one time when he said that Donald Trump was absolutely wrong in suggesting that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the 2017 Charlottesville protests. But nevertheless, I long for the day for politics to be boring again and not feel so existential. When we approach evil administrations like Donald Trump, the line between good and evil in our political arena is made much more clear than I am comfortable with. And as a result it can feel like salvation comes from our political processes, and I want to resist that, even on this Election Day, when the stakes seem higher than ever.
The stakes are high, but they aren’t holy
I do not want to downplay the fact that the stakes are high. But I want to say that defeating Donald Trump is far from declaring our allegiance to the Lord, and I want to emphasize that today, and remember that Jesus is with me if Trump is gone or if Trump wins. I will need to keep praising his name as Lord, regardless of the election outcome, and maybe even more if I am tempted to think that the political process will save me.
I obviously don’t think the outcome of this election is immaterial, and I’ve made that very clear. My friend Andrew Yang, who works as a social security lawyer, recently told me that if Joe Biden wins, social security benefits will increase, and that could mean life and death for his clients. So, again, the election is not without significant consequence for people. I don’t think political quietism is a faithful response to follow Jesus (whose Gospel had deeply political and economic ramifications). But there is a great temptation to think that our electoral political processes will save us. So while I do not want to suggest that Christians engage in no social action, I do believe that reliance on the election to save us is succumbing to American exceptionalism and the U.S. Civil Religion, which suggests that our salvation rests on this moment. And while I think this is an important moment, when the Biden campaign resuscitates Eminem’s “One Opportunity,” to make an analogue to voting, I think they are overstating their case.
Last week, Joe Biden wrote a column for the Christian Post where he made his own Christian argument for his candidacy. I have to admit, I was very surprised to hear how Christian he was. Biden said that it was the Great Commandment—Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind—that was the guiding principle for his politics. And though his record, including that wicked 1994 Crime Bill, suggests otherwise, I still appreciated his words. Biden said:
We must also root out systemic racism, which is so antithetical to the idea of imago Dei, and which has long deprived too many of our sisters and brothers of color of the opportunities they deserve as equal children of God…
We must also tackle the pervasive evil of poverty, which continues to burden too many families in the wealthiest nation on earth. Jesus tells us that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” As a country, we are blessed with the world’s highest GDP and incredible national resources – yet too many working families struggle to pay for basic necessities while the rewards of our economy are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few.
My faith implores me to embrace a preferential option for the poor and, as president, I will do everything in my power to fight poverty and build a future that moves us closer to our highest ideals – not only that all women and men are created equal in the eyes of God, but that they are treated equally by their fellow man.
When I read that, I was astonished? “Imago Dei,” “preferential option for the poor?” I wonder what religious staffer wrote this column for him, but I received it sincerely, yet with some trepidation. Here’s Joe Biden, who is running for commander-in-chief of the U.S., who will continue American militarism and domination (I guess because China becoming the superpower would be worse, would be the argument), talking about loving God and loving others. It’s a little rich, I have to say, even if I appreciate it, and even if I think he would be much better than Donald Trump. But religious language, even Christian language, may deceive into serving another Lord. So I want to be careful about that, but also resolute in my allegiance to Christ.
We need a new King and a new Kingdom
At the end of the day, I vote like I take out my recycling. It may help a little, but the kind of revolution we need needs metaphysical imagination, it needs a prophetic imagination, it needs a Christian imagination. And I think that starts with declaring our allegiance to Jesus.
My salvation coming from my Lord and not from a presidential election was made even clearer to me last week when Walter Wallace, Jr., a 27-year-old Black Philadelphian, was gunned down by police after ambulances were called to try to contain him during a mental health crisis. Our heart broke once again as another black man was killed by police. And while there is a lot of political reform we can do to make these occurrences less common, and while there are a lot of good movements that the church should join in protesting racialized police brutality, if the pandemic has made anything clear, it’s that the extrajudicial killing of black men by police is an “essential business” in the U.S. It didn’t shut down, whether it was Walter Wallace, Jr., Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, or Alton Sterling. And as we face another killing, and I look to an unchanging system of racism that’s woven into the fabric of the United States, I keep thinking that even with the best efforts to change how we resource the police (think reallocating funding for the police), or change the laws around prosecution of the police (like qualified immunity), or change the protections in place for police (like their unions), I think Christians have to keep pointing to another way of doing things, another way of protecting our communities, one modeled on the cruciform witness of Christ. And so while I laud the activism in our community of Circle of Hope, I know that it is also, much like voting itself is, a temporary solution to a problem that we will only solve in partnership with Jesus. It seems to me like the redundancy of racialized violence in the United States isn’t a flaw in our programming, it’s the design of it. And so we need to overhaul the system, and for Christians, that makes naming Jesus as Lord.
You see, Jesus isn’t just another Lord, he is a different Lord. His Kingdom is an Upside-Down One. He does not collect power, he divests power. He self-empties. Jesus meets us by becoming us. He saves us by succumbing to death. Jesus is familiar in our suffering and our pain, and knows we will face it, but promises us that we will overcome it.
Trump is not an aberration
The sad thing is this: Trump is not an aberration, Trump shows us the rot of the American system. He’s not an enigma, he’s not an anomaly, he’s a product of the worst of the American empire. He is the fruit of the seeds sown in the United States. Here’s how Jamelle Bouie put it last week in the New York Times:
Perhaps more than most, Americans hold many illusions about the kind of nation in which we live. We tell ourselves that we are the freest country in the world, that we have the best system of government, that we welcome all comers, that we are efficient and dynamic where the rest of the world is stagnant and dysfunctional. Some of those things have been true at some points in time, but none of them is true at this point in time.
What Trump has done is made it difficult to maintain the illusion. Whenever he finally leaves the scene, we can either take the opportunity to look with clear eyes and assess this country as it is and as it has been or again seek the comfort of myth.
I think it is incumbent upon Christians to not forget these words and not to seek comfort from the myth of the United States. To remember that our Kingdom is not of this world, and that we bow to another King and another Lord. Even if Trump is defeated, Joe Biden will not be our savior. Only Jesus will be.