Pluck Out...Your Candidate?

I'll never forget the first year that I was able to vote. I had just turned 18 and could not have been more zealous to be part of the American political process. I spent six hours a day while I worked listening to angry talk show radio hosts who seemed intent on raising my blood pressure. I vehemently argued with (and regarded as an enemy) anyone who disagreed with me. If Facebook had been around I would have most likely have blocked anyone who thought differently from me. Thankfully the election eventually took place, and I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had played my part in the American process. As if emerging from a daze I went back to my regular life of spiritual devotion, church attendance, sharing the Gospel, and turning my focus more earnestly to the Lord.

Four years later, however, the daze occurred again and a similar pattern repeated itself. I devoted a solid 8 months (probably more, if I'm honest) pouring my spare energy into reinforcing my preferred choice and again trying to persuade others to join me in my "righteous" cause. This pattern has repeated itself for the last 15 years of my life, like clockwork. If my estimates are right, I have invested at least three whole years of my young life in politics; and, if I'm honest, I now regard them as lost years. I think of all the things I could have done during those 8 month cycles. I could have spent long stretches listening to good preaching instead of self-indulgent screeds. I could have read books about Christ instead of the opinions of pundits. I could have memorized the shorter and larger catechism. I could have memorized a book of the Bible. I could have spent time trying to persuade my non-Christian neighbors to come to Christ, or join my church. Instead, I tried to persuade them to join my political party and watched my blood pressure climb over events that I really had very, very little sway over.

With the advent of Facebook, the visible shift of focus for most Americans is startling. We had three years of some sort of normalcy (nevertheless characterized by bad news and cat videos). Now, the focus of nearly everyone has either turned to Pokémon Go or the election. Frankly I suspect that Pokémon Go may actually be of greater consequence than the election. At the least Pokémon is building non-volatile relationships!

This election year brings with it a choice between two human beings who (if I dare say so) nearly everyone seems to universally regard as despicable. Either candidate will be a loss for our nation and a harbinger of divine judgment. So how much time should American church members or ministers devote to picking their poison? I think a fair answer is, "Almost certainly less time than they are currently."

Now, to be fair, I can't and won't tell others how to spend their time. I am so far from being a perfect model of how to spend one's time. For instance, I read a stack of comic books this past year. I have hobbies and things that I do for fun that bring rest, relaxation, and pleasure into my life. I have been known to regain focus for studies or ministry after watching a TV show on Netflix. When I think of the ideally pious use of one's fleeting moments, I think of Jonathan Edwards, who resolved "never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can." This is not me (though I want it to be), and I do not speak as a perfect model.

However, of this much we can be sure: Jesus tells us that if something is causing us to sin, we should cut it off or pluck it out (Matt. 5:29). Brothers and sisters, if politics has become an idol for you...if political engagement is impeding the work of the Kingdom that you know you should be doing, Jesus commands you to cut it off. I can't tell you at what point political involvement has passed from the legitimate responsibility of a citizen into idolatrous waste. I can't tell you exactly what the best use of your time is at every given moment. If you find political investment to be fruitful, restful, and a source of joy and pleasure in your life, by all means invest yourself and pour yourself out for the cause to bring glory to Christ. But I would also encourage believers to ask themselves the following diagnostic questions. It is my hope that they may be of some help to our knowing whether we need to cut off our political hand:

  • "During this season do I have more or fewer relationships where I have opportunities to share the good news with a sinner?"
  • "Do I invest more energy in getting people into my political party than I do getting them in to my church?"
  • "Do I spend as much time having my soul enriched by the preaching of the Word as I do listening to pundits?"
  • "Are my anxiety and blood pressure higher during this season? If so, is politics worth the toll it is taking on me?"
  • "Do I watch too much news? If so, have I become more anxious, fearful, or angry?"
  • "Do I believe that the right candidate will bring the kind of joy into my life that only Christ can bring?"
I realize some will charge me with presenting a false dichotomy here. Surely some are capable of walking and chewing gum. I was not able to personally engage well in politics and the work of the Kingdom of God during the last four political cycles. I suspect I am not the only one. I am not suggesting that believers should have no place in political involvement. What I am suggesting is that because we are not only citizens of earth, but also citizens of heaven our investment in the earthly city of man where we currently live ought to be modest, measured, and balanced by the knowledge that Christ's "kingdom is not of this world." Of all people, we have our priorities straight.

Let us never kid ourselves into thinking that obsessive political investment on social media or in private conversations with believers or unbelievers will further the kingdom of God one inch. The kingdom of God is furthered by the proclamation of the Word and by the work of the Spirit in opening the hearts of people to receive the message of Christ crucified. The kingdom of God is advanced by the work of evangelism and discipleship--by using the means of grace that God has given to his people and His church. If something - anything - is impeding the work that you or I ought to be doing, Jesus commands us to cut it off or pluck it out from our lives. It would be better for us to enter heaven without our candidate than to enter hell with our candidate, would it not?

Adam Parker is the Pastor-Elect of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, MS. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.