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November 2016
Pastor’s Perspective. . .

In their book, The Last Week, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan articulated the powers that aligned against Jesus Christ during his last week of ministry. Those who know the story can recall that the Roman occupiers, the Herodian court, and the Religious leadership of Jerusalem conspired to eliminate Jesus from the public scene. While we recognize the divine nature of Jesus Christ, they did not, and their conspiracy was based on temporal and not eternal concerns. Borg and Crossan posit that the “powers that be” were threatened by the subversive Kingdom that Jesus preached: a kingdom that while not of this world, surely had terrestrial impact.

The gospels tell us that Jesus’ appearance came at just the right moment in time. The Jewish people had grown tired of the system in which they lived. They were angered by the political oppression and the economic exploitation that they endured from their Roman occupiers, and the complicity of their own advocates in the Temple. The world that Jesus experienced was populated by radicals, revolutionaries and revivalists, each prepared to clean house in Jerusalem and return the people of God to the glory days of the Davidic monarchy. God sent Jesus into this perfect storm of controversy and political intrigue and the world (or at least the people of God) rejected both the promise and the person of God.

As a nation with deep cultural Christian roots, it should be of no surprise that the American presidency has been caught up in the messianic expectations of the people. From George Washington to Barack Obama the American people have viewed their President through the eyes of scripture; either raising them up as Saviors or Anti-Christs (and it needs to be recognized that both extremes reflect the messianic nature of the office).

The 2016 election cycle certainly has continued this “tradition.” While recent events have placed the candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) in the cross hairs, most of the vitriol over the past months has been directed at the grass roots campaign of Donald Trump (R). While Clinton had for years been expected to emerge as the Democratic nominee, Trump has confounded both partisans and pollsters with his nationalistic firebrand campaign style and his Teflon coated image.

It is my opinion that the 2016 election cycle says more about where we are in history than who we are as a people. In fact, in our Constitutional Republic, most elections do exactly that. Year after year we are told that national elections are won not by the partisans who populate the beltway majority, but by the “undecideds” who work the fields and patrol the streets of the inner cities. The undecideds, those who have no firm partisan commitment, cast their votes not only on the allure of the candidate, but also on their gut level response to the direction of the nation. If they believe things to be going well, they vote for the party in power. If they believe that things are going in the wrong direction, then the party in power will take a beating, which brings us to our current situation.

Opinion polls tell us that a majority of the American people believe that the nation is going in the wrong direction. In fact the polls tell us that this may be the only thing that the people agree upon. What is interesting is that while many people see the problem, few of them are placing the blame on just one party. After years of increasing partisan venom, many of the American people recognize that both parties share equal responsibility for the current crisis. This was reflected not only in the Republican primary, but also in the Democratic primary.

During the primary season, both sides of the political aisle faced a popular insurgency. The Bernie Sanders phenomena proved to be far more formidable than anyone could have imagined and it was only narrowly beaten back by the strength of party insiders. Trump’s victory, while equally shocking was likely due more to the plethora of candidates that he faced than to the allure of his media-forged personality. The primaries were representative of the population’s growing dissatisfaction with the political status quo.

So what are the people so angry about? They are tired of the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer. They are tired of being pawns in the economic boondoggle that is the American government. They are tired of sending their money to Washington, D.C. and getting little in return. More than anything else, they are tired of both parties collaborating against the interests of the citizenry in order to consolidate their power and wealth within the D.C. beltway.

We all see the corruption. We all know that the politicians have more in common with each other than they do with the people. We all intuitively know that many of the beltway politicians see both the street protestor in St. Louis and the Trump supporter in Orlando as residing in the same basket of deplorables. This is the world in which the 2016 election cycle has emerged.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has run her campaign on the strength of her Washington credibility. She has served as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. She is the ultimate insider, but in an election season that may be typified by the American electorate’s anger against Washington, her biography undermines her candidacy. The protest voter (and the Trump loyalist) sees the beltway as corrupted on both sides of the aisle. They see that a Harvard educated Democrat thinks remarkably similar to a Harvard educated Republican. They understand that Goldman Sachs employees populate the administrations of both political parties, and that the representatives that we have sent to Washington to do the business of the people in Toledo or Fort Wayne, end up retiring in New York or Baltimore. This is why Trump has survived the scandals regarding his character and conduct. They have heard it all before, and they have been asked to forgive or ignore far less in the past by the beltway crowd. They do not see Trump as a moral exemplar, but as an outsider who will change the system. They are not supporting him because he is a good man, but because he is his own man. They do not like Trump. They like the idea of Trump. And ideas and ideals are far more resilient then men.

Rightly or wrongly, the Trump voter sees in Trump what the Jewish people looked for in their Messiah. They want someone who will overturn the tables of corruption and attack the central power of Rome and Jerusalem. They want change and they want it now. They include constitutional zealots who want to return to the real intent of the founders, the outsiders, the radicals, and the powerless. They want a leader who will get things done and they see in Trump someone who can at least change things in Washington. But herein lies the problem. The true Messiah did not get things done and did little to change Jerusalem. It is important to note that Jesus NEVER gave the people what they wanted. He gave us what we needed. He didn’t save us from Rome; he saved us from our evil intentions. He did not free us from tyranny; he freed us from the bondage of sin. He did not give the people what they sought, but asked them to seek a Kingdom that is not of this world. Jesus didn’t just turn over THEIR table; he overturned the values that we have assumed as good. For the last shall be first and the first shall be last. It should come as no surprise to us that Jesus did not win in Jerusalem and lost the only vote that he was ever involved in.

In a campaign filled with vitriolic bluster and over-indulgent rhetoric, neither candidate is worthy of our
praise. Neither of them will save us, nor do they have the power to destroy us. The problem is not the candidates. It never is. The problem is that we want to believe the lies. We want free college and health care, regardless of the cost. We want to believe that we are healthy and strong, even when we are bankrupt and dying. We want to believe that someone can solve the problems that we have created without experiencing the pain of sacrifice. In a democracy we vote for what we want and we get what we deserve.

This is why Jesus could never win an election and why to this day, if given the choice, we will always choose Barabbas.

Pray for the nation, pray for your leaders, and do your part by voting on Election Day.
Pastor Dan