Despair. That’s often my one-word reply when someone asks me my thoughts on the current, seemingly endless, presidential campaign. Despair, that is, as someone who has followed politics for a long time and voted in ten presidential elections. There are plenty of reasons to despair, that’s for sure. Both major party candidates come closest to being honest when each describes the other, so it’s no surprise that they combine to form the most unlikeable Democrat/Republican candidate combo in the history of favorability polling. The rest of the iceberg is no more appealing.
As a Christian, however, this year’s political shenanigans have forced me to think more seriously about the dangers of attaching too much significance to the choice Americans will make on November 8. In some ways, despair still applies because of the character, or lack thereof, of Clinton and Trump. However, as a Christian historian I know full well that worse characters have exercised political power in the past, are doing so currently (see Russia and North Korea), and will do so in the future. These examples of wicked leaders have long served to remind Christians that however much we might wish for governments to be just and merciful, ultimately we will only find true justice and full mercy in our heavenly citizenship, whenever we are blessed to take up that mantle.
In the meantime, though, here we are. What to do? Despair could lead to withdrawal from public life, and some Christians have chosen that option over the centuries. It’s certainly tempting in 2016, and it may even be the right option for a few of us. However, it’s hard for me to see how Christ’s command to be “salt and light” in this putrid and dark world squares with all believers withdrawing from the political sphere. Rather, it’s likely that my best option, and perhaps yours as well, is to put our hands to the plow and carry on with the responsibilities God has put before us. In many cases, that will include contemplating our ballot box choices and evaluating how those choices mesh with the lives we are seeking to live for God in this society. In my case, that means that I will do my best to make the most responsible choices I can make when I vote this fall, even though I may actually hold my nose when I’m in the voting booth. May you thoughtfully consider how to make those same choices while honoring your deepest beliefs. I may still be tempted to despair, but it cannot prevail.