Election Year Fear
Former senator Rick Santorum ended his campaign for the Republican nomination for president this week, effectively inaugurating the general election. Former governor Mitt Romney, long the presumptive nominee, no longer faces any realistic challengers in the Republican primary, and he and President Obama have begun attacking one another more directly in their public remarks.
In the weeks ahead, the two major political parties, along with scores of television anchors, radio hosts, deceptively named special interest groups and political action committees, will begin advocating for their preferred candidates aggressively. They’ll hold rallies to motivate sympathetic voters. They’ll release ads designed to persuade undecideds. They’ll send volunteers and paid staffers door-to-door armed with talking points written by researchers who have studied the psychological profile of people from every demographic, professional guild and magazine mailing list to which you belong.
And most of them will be trying to make you afraid.
Afraid of a general American decline. Afraid of a war against a particular right or class. Afraid of the death of an industry. Or just afraid of death.
“My opponent doesn’t want to see you flourish,” is the message underpinning too much political conversation in this country. What makes it such a dangerous message to be use as a political attack, though, is that, to some degree, it’s universally true: We know that every human being is fallen, and that means that every human being has a propensity to try to seize power and authority that only belongs to God. We are prone to self-interest, and we look out for our own interest or our own tribe’s interest when the scripture calls us to seek the peace and prosperity of strangers, enemies and hostile cities.
It takes a deep, abiding humility born of the gospel to admit a brokenness that is so fundamental without the admission crushing your sense of self. And keeping that innate, fallen disregard for Other Groups in check requires that you be surrounded by people who aren bold enough to call you out on it and sympathetic enough to encourage you to transcend it. Being a judge, a legislator or a chief executive doesn’t exempt you from human nature, and implying that a universal human fault is true only of the “other side” makes it harder to remember that we are all fallen.
However, just being told that a candidate doesn’t want to see you flourish isn’t enough to incite fear. No, the fear really gets stoked when the campaign volunteer on the other end of the phone implies that if the other party wins the election, they’d actually have the power to keep you from flourishing.
Christians reject the belief that any candidate or party has ultimate, apocalyptical power over the fate of a nation because we know the fate of all nations, and it isn’t degradation. It’s renewal.
For millennia, people hoped that a cycle of death and the slow encroaching of entropy weren’t the final truths. For centuries, the prophets of the Old Testament, against almost evidence, affirmed those hopes, saying that the will of God was to gather all the nations to Himself, raise up the low places and make the bent paths straight.
For Christians struggling with the dire forecasts of a presidential campaign year, Jesus’ resurrection offers us two assurances: That life and flourishing can and will overcome even the most inexorable forces of decay and death, and that that ultimate victory of life over death will come from God, not from our own hands. Just as the apostles didn’t need to administer CPR or vote Jesus back into their circle, so even the most inept public administrator will see at the resurrection that all things worked for the good of God’s beloved people, and no policy that they bungled could stop all the old, worn things of this world from being made new.
When you’re at a bar, or a coffee shop, or your children’s baseball game, and a friend tells you to be afraid, you have the right to respectfully refuse.