In the United States the President, head of the executive branch of government, stirred an angry march against the Congress, our second branch, in an effort to overturn the recent election. This even after the third branch, the Supreme Court, endorsed the election results. It was a short-lived but dangerous insurrection, with repercussions still unfolding.
A key question in the mix was, what’s true? The main mantra of one side was, “Stop the steal!”—holding the election to be fraudulent. Their opponents shot back, “The data doesn’t lie!”—and the Court agreed with the latter. So, a new President will take office. And only one truth seems to be shared by both sides: mutual distrust is tearing America’s national fabric.
In the past few weeks an election may have been stolen in Uganda. And just a few months ago an election in Belarus kept Alexander Lukashenko in office despite a process that external monitors labeled as “neither fair nor free.” It seems that having election controversies in autocratic nations is nothing new, but finding similar chaos in the USA is troubling.
It also troubles me that evangelical Christians have been widely and closely affiliated with the insurrection. Some are driven by a “Christian America” premise that promotes Christian privilege. For example, on a national news broadcast I saw one of the activists offering a prayer of thanksgiving in Jesus name on the Senate dais after their successful incursion into the Congress building. And the FBI is now looking for all the trespassers in that video.
It troubles me because some of my evangelical friends are chasing truth by taking the wrong path. Their apparent aim—to reshape society through political power—is not what Jesus or his close followers ever did. Jesus avoided joining the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Herodians. When some followers tried to make him king, Jesus withdrew. And, as he told Pilate at the end of his life on earth, “my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).
Instead let’s chase what he told Pilate on the same occasion: “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
But what “truth” does Jesus offer? The ultimate answer is the truth of his place as the creator and sustainer of the universe! It’s what Paul referenced in Colossians 1:16-17, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” And this is certainly linked to another bold claim by Jesus in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
So, what Jesus offered in his own brief ministry is absolutely transcendent over against the struggles of his day and our day. He spoke of his ambition to gather people in his heavenly realm, “to see my glory that you [Father] have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Jesus knew the world was broken; and he knew why. It has been hijacked by Satan, the ruler of this world, whom he described in John 8. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” Whenever Satan speaks, Jesus went on, he only and always uses “the Lie”—i.e. that we can succeed without worshipping and loving God.
In John 17 Jesus made it clear that sound faith is truth-based: “I have given them your word …. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” What distinguished true followers of Jesus—those who will eventually join him in his eternal glory—is their reception of his words. Words that did not engage in local power politics.
This is not, however, a call to avoid all political controversies. William Wilberforce, for instance, was active in the 18th century English Parliament where he confronted and helped to overturn the slave trade. And there is a need today for people to confront a host of social abuses including casual abortion, rampant sexual trafficking, racial inequalities, and more.
The challenge for us is to be able to call for change, and to be righteous activists at times—here we think of Jesus cleansing the temple—yet without becoming one with the world. And it might serve all of us well to read Machiavelli’s famous book, The Prince, who described much of what goes on in all the political parties today. And it may help cure some of our evangelical naivete when we see some of our favorite politicians using Machiavellian schemes to succeed.
As Christians, then, let’s love the truth with more energy and clarity than any of our neighbors by looking to Jesus. He, alone, offers pristine truth. And he didn’t belong to any political party.