Summary: The politician who sells out to special interests and who has no regard for life is not worthy of our loyalty. We need to get involved in the political process with a servant mentality.
We have here in our church a long-standing tradition of the separation of church and state. We do not get involved in partisan politics. We do not support candidates, we do not give platforms to those running for political office. This sets us off from some other churches, where it is not at all uncommon for candidates to speak from the pulpit, or where political literature is handed out.
This is not our way. And I am confident you do not want to change it. We have another way of understanding what it is to be the church in the world. We have felt that it is more important to maintain the unity of our fellowship around spiritual matters than it is to fracture it around political races.
However, that means it is easy for us to become irrelevant. That means that we can be in danger of forfeiting our voice when great issues are at stake. Just because we do not get involved in endorsing candidates, that does not mean that we cannot think together about political issues. We do need to take seriously our spiritual responsibility as citizens.
And so, on this Independence Day weekend, with national political party conventions coming up, and with a presidential election only four months away, I want to ask you to think with me about how we might be Christian citizens. What do we need to look for as we make our decisions about who shall lead this nation for the next four years?
One set of clues comes from a very, very long time ago, from the period of the Judges in ancient Israel. I am talking about some eleven centuries before Christ, some three thousand years ago. It’s a rather obscure period in Israel’s history, but it has a lot to teach us.
The period of the Judges comes after Moses has freed the people from slavery in Egypt, after they have wandered for a generation in the wilderness, and then after they have conquered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. After Joshua’s death, there was a series of leaders we call "Judges". The Judges were men and some women who simply emerged from among the people, who demonstrated moral courage and political ability, as well as military strength. There was no particular way in which judges were selected; it just seems as though the people sensed when somebody was called of God to lead them, and they followed.
One of the greatest of the Judges was Gideon. You will remember Gideon as the man who had rallied a large army behind him to go into battle against one of Israel’s enemies, but God told him to whittle down the army to just a handful of brilliant, dedicated fighters. That story is intended, among other things, to tell us that Gideon was not an ambitious man. He did not want to accumulate the trappings of power. His idea of political leadership was to keep it very limited. In fact, at one point in the story of Gideon some of the people wanted to make him king, but he refused it. Gideon is the very picture of godly leadership.
But after Gideon’s death, an ugly, vicious stream breaks out in the life of the nation. This happens, you know. One of the things we always have to watch out for is the backlash phenomenon. No matter how good and how productive some leader has been, there are always those who are so uncomfortable that when they get half a chance, they will turn in exactly the opposite direction. Civil rights, white backlash. Peace movement, militaristic backlash. Welfare state, yuppie backlash. It happens all the time.
So when Gideon the godly leader died, there was a Baal backlash. The text in Judges, ch. 8, tells us that at the death of Gideon, the nation turned back to its old temptation to worship the Canaanite fertility gods called the Baals. And in that pagan context there arose the figure of Abimelech. Abimelech, the son of Gideon by one of Gideon’s concubines, came on the scene and appealed to the worst in the hearts and minds of Israel.
Let’s hear a part of his bloody story:
Judges 9: 1-6
Notice what has happened. Abimelech began his political climb by appealing to his close relatives, the kinsmen and clan of his mother’s family. He began with a racial appeal. He was not interested in courting a broad support, just his own kind of people.
And then Abimelech was given seventy pieces of silver from the Temple of Baal-berith. You might call that the first PAC, the first Political Action Committee! And look at where the money comes from: from a special interest group, interested only in promoting the pleasure palaces of paganism.