This was first published in my newsletter earlier this year.
No matter who wins the election, God is still sovereign! How many versions of this sentiment have you heard expressed during an election cycle? In my experience, this sort of exhortation is common in white Christian circles. It’s deployed to lessen partisan tensions and to remind people that politics should not be divisive.
Can we break this down?
On the one hand, yes! Of course God is still in control regardless of who wins any election. But why is it that we need to be reminded of something so ridiculously obvious. I think it’s related to how many of us have been shaped to understand the U.S.A. as a sort of Promised Land. It is exceptional, John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill.” In a land flowing with milk and honey we look to our leaders to be more than slightly better versions of ourselves; we’re looking for a source of redemption, salvation, and hope. Someone to affirm our greatness or to return us to it.
From this vantage point it’s clear that we do need to be reminded of God’s sovereignty over our politics. We are prone to forget and to make idols of frail and greedy men in suits.
But what does this exhortation sound like to those who’ve never been confused about this country’s identity? What about those for whom the American day-to-day feels more like imperial exile than the land of promise? It seems to me that this heart-felt charge might ring ignorant. After all, elections have consequences and not only of the ideological variety. For communities who have long suffered and survived this nation’s politics, the notion that any elected official can save us is ridiculous and demonstrably wrong. But just as wrong is the sentiment that there aren’t lived implications at stake on election day.
Let me try to get at it this way: When I hear white pastors assure their congregations about God’s sovereignty, I’m left wondering if they realize how their neighbors of color will be disproportionately impacted by foolish politicians and their equally foolish policies. And when I hear the Black pastors in our community urge their people to vote, I don’t question for even a second their belief in the sovereignty of God. After all, they’re clear about where we live and what we can actually hope for from our cracked and corrupt systems.
A friend of color recently described his voting philosophy as selecting the least worst options. There are a bunch of assumptions baked into that straightforward perspective and those of us who’ve confused imperial exile for the Promised Land would do well to pay attention to them.