When I went to seminary, I was thirty years old. I had spent my twenties working as a lawyer in Ohio, living in a house, acquiring furniture, dear friends and a cat. So when God called me to leave all of that to go back east for three more years of graduate school in order […]
When I went to seminary, I was thirty years old. I had spent my twenties working as a lawyer in Ohio, living in a house, acquiring furniture, dear friends and a cat. So when God called me to leave all of that to go back east for three more years of graduate school in order to become a minister, I knew that I would have to let go of many things in order to embrace my new call. I got rid of a lot of my furniture to be able to downsize to a small apartment, packed up my law books and legal pads, and prepared to say good-bye to my friends to begin my new life with God. But the one thing I was not willing to leave behind was my cat. Animals for me are like children; you do not just ditch them when they become inconvenient. This presented a problem when I tried to secure campus housing, which had a “no pets allowed” policy even for the off-campus apartments they had for older students. I will never forget when, after I had explained my situation to the administrator in charge of campus housing, she told me coldly, “Well when Jesus says, ‘Follow me’ you need to be prepared to leave everything behind.” It took every ounce of self-control for me to respond, “I know; but I think I will look for my own off-campus housing instead”, rather than say what I was really thinking, which was: “Lady, when Jesus tells me to leave my cat, I will. But I’ve got news for you– you’re not Jesus!”
Now, I find myself wanting to say something similar to certain politicians who are casting themselves in the role of “savior” as our nation moves closer and closer to November’s election. “You aren’t Jesus – not even close!” I want to shout. But maybe I should really say, “You aren’t Moses” because according to author Bruce Feiler’s excellent book, America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story, Moses is the man who has most captured the spiritual psyche of our nation. “Even a cursory review of American history” Feiler writes, “indicates that Moses has emboldened leaders of all stripes, patriot and loyalist, slave and master, Jew and Christian.” People do not want to do half of what Jesus preached we ought to do. Give away all our money and love the enemy? Are you kidding?! A politician who quoted only Jesus would never be elected. But the liberating story of the Exodus seems to mesh so nicely with our nation’s myth about “the self-made man,” that politicians have long tried to paint themselves as the Moses of our age. On the campaign trail they cry “Let my people go!”, and promise that they alone have the power and policies to set them free.
Since plenty of people feel oppressed and powerless these days, and since the Exodus narrative is in our collective unconscious now, it’s not surprising that people in our nation are being swayed by speech making which promises liberation. “Go, go, go Moses!” people are implicitly crying at rallies (if you’ll forgive me mixing Andrew Lloyd Weber’s memorable Joseph music with Moses’ story). “We want you to stick it to Pharaoh and anyone else who is keeping us down!” That’s understandable. But it is also highly problematic. The job that God gave Moses, and the job of President of the United States are two very different jobs, after all. Beyond the obvious differences in education, experience and background required to do the jobs, the goals of the jobs are profoundly different. The President is called to hold the nation together, not to tear it apart. The President is constitutionally required to work with a whole Congress of other elected officials representing a diverse nation, not commissioned by God to work unilaterally. The President is not a religious leader, nor can he or she force the nation to adopt one religion; and the President must recognize the legitimate needs of other nations, not just the needs of his/her own.
But the biggest problem with our being seduced by presidential candidates who try to dance in Moses’ sandals, is that we can start confusing in our own hearts and minds the political candidate’s “people” with the people of God. Doing this leads to destructive “us versus them” thinking, and lousy theology. No candidate who has billions to waste on hateful advertising, or who has almost as much in the bank for personal use, is truly “kin” with the oppressed in the way that Moses was a Hebrew among Hebrews. Neither candidate is discriminated against daily because of his or her color. Neither is tormented daily by the inability to find a job. Neither candidate knows what it is like to be enslaved by poverty, or to be persecuted for his or her religious beliefs. When a candidate talks about “my people” therefore, the odds are good that his “people” are whatever people will win him the most electoral votes.
God’s people, in contrast, are all people; we know this through Jesus Christ. Like Moses before him, Christ came to initiate a second Exodus, one which would liberate not just a small chosen constituency, but all people from oppression: male, female, young old, LGBTQ, straight, of every nation and race. Christ did not cherry-pick among the oppressed, nor did he try to curry favor with them for his own gain. He spoke against materialism and economic inequity. He spoke against violence and political oppression. He spoke in favor of the “least of these”- the widow, the orphan, the immigrant. Most importantly, Jesus gave himself completely and selflessly so that we all could be set free.
Instead of looking for a presidential candidate who can save us, therefore, we would do better to remember that through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we have already been saved, and are called to follow in our Savior’s footsteps. We all have the ability to work against the forces that oppress, and the God-given gifts to change our nation and our world for the better. But our efforts cannot be entirely self-serving. They must be on behalf of all. So to the extent that following Christ requires us to mix faith with politics, and allow the biblical narrative and our faith to inform our votes, then in addition to considering the candidates’ political qualifications, we should keep in mind who God’s people really are, and vote for the candidate who seems most likely to do the same.
(The views expressed in these blogs are my own, and do not represent the views of all of the people at Prince of Peace or the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.)
 Feiler, Bruce, America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story (HarperCollins Pub., 2009), 5.