Ben Carson said some stuff. Whatever your opinion may be on whether or not a Muslim should be president, it’s beside the point of this post. The utter outrage and wholehearted support of Carson’s statements are surely to be expected in today’s religio-political atmosphere, but what Christians and pseudo-Christians seem to be missing entirely is the better question it raises: Should a Christian be the president of the United States? Better yet, is it possible for a faithful Christian to be the president? The historical opinion of our country has obviously been “yes,” and resoundingly so. But maybe, just maybe, we’ve gotten this one wrong for a while.
Maybe, just maybe, a Christian shouldn’t–and can’t, faithfully–be the president of the United States. Maybe the power of the state and the power of the Cross actually come into direct conflict with one another, and as Christians we have to choose one or the other. Maybe what it means to be president is the exact opposite of what it means to be a Christian. Maybe the God of the powerless and the foolish doesn’t want one of his people to be the figurehead of worldly might.
Why, you ask? Because in order to submit to the commands of Scripture and the words of Jesus, that is the most obvious conclusion. If Christians insist on submitting ourselves to the most plain and evident reading of Scripture available (as we should), maybe that has some radical implications for the way we relate to the world. Maybe if we fully embraced that most essential of evangelical tenets, it would also provide some damn consistency in the ridiculously incongruous political and social involvement of Christians from the far left to the religious right.
Consistency. That would be lovely. Like maybe, when Jesus says very plainly to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that’s exactly what he meant. Like maybe that commandment doesn’t have a limit, since there doesn’t seem to be an exception clause for “matters of national security”. Maybe we should stop making attempts at rationalizing that commandment away as impractical and take Jesus’s direct command at face value, like we insist be done with Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6 or 1 Timothy 1. Perhaps if we studied the New Testament and the early church, we would be floored by the realization that for the first 300 years of Christianity, until it became socially and politically advantageous to belong to the state-supported church, military service and violence of any kind were unilaterally denounced (see George Kalantzis, Caesar and the Lamb; Rob Arner, Consistently Pro-Life). Maybe that should give Christians pause when we advocate for electing a Christian to be the commander-in-chief of a country that has been involved in military conflict for 93% of the time that it has existed. Maybe Christians should not want to be the leaders of a country that spends over $700 billion on military expenses, which in 2011 was more than the next 13 highest nations combined.
If we took the Scriptures seriously and at face value like we claim to, maybe Christians would be affected by the absolute dichotomy painted between God and his people and the imperial, economic powers of the world. Perhaps we would be shaken to the core when Jesus informs us that we cannot serve both God and Mammon, the god of the economic and political system. Maybe that would deter us from wanting “one of us” to lead the wealthiest empire that has ever existed. (Maybe it would also stop us from participating in the culture of rabid consumerism and wonder if it might have ill effects on ourselves and others…but that’s another point entirely.) If we took Scripture seriously, maybe we would be compelled to heed the command of the true King in Revelation, when we are graphically told to “come out of” the whore Babylon, a classic prophetic representation of the world’s greedy and exploitative power systems.
Maybe we would even notice the abhorrence of economic inequality that is present from the front to the back of God’s Word. Maybe we’d pay attention when celebrated leaders like Timothy Keller remind us that God evaluates the justness of a society according to how it treats the refugee, the migrant worker, and the homeless (Keller, Generous Justice, 4). And that just might shake us out of rationalizing and making excuses for the fact that the U.S. is the most economically unequal developed nation in the world. Maybe we would not treat ideas like “wealth redistribution” as dirty words from communist Satan if we recognized the centrality of the Jubilee system for Israel’s divinely ordained social-ethical structure. Maybe we would realize that the American maxims of “God helping those who help themselves”, “picking ourselves up by our bootstraps”, and “getting what we earned” are all completely opposed to what it means to belong to the people of God…and that that applies to economic positions as well as “spiritual standing.”
Maybe all of those things should make us stop and find some consistency, and cause us to reflect on what a “Christian president” would actually look like. Maybe it turns out that that’s a contradiction, and the power of God is meant to operate at the bottom and from the margins of society.
And maybe, just maybe, if we took Scripture seriously, and took Jesus at his word, we wouldn’t fearfully and desperately place our hope in a “Christian America” to “rid the world of evil.” Maybe instead, we would place our hope in the slaughtered lamb of Revelation 5, who has already conquered death, sin, and the powers of the world by his sacrificial love and refusal of earthly power.