Confession: I am a bleeding-heart conservative.
What do I mean by that?
I am a “conservative” in that I believe in democracy, free markets, low taxes, the importance of the U.S. Constitution, personal freedom (from the government), and Biblical ethics and morality.
And I am a “bleeding-heart” in that I believe in conservation and earth stewardship, generous immigration laws, caring for the poor, ill, and hurting, and protecting the personal freedoms of everyone–even people who don’t prescribe to Biblical ethics and morality.
A bleeding-heart conservative.
It’s easy to maintain this tension on a personal level; it’s not so easy during election season.
There is rarely a candidate who truly represents me and I think most of my friends would say that same thing. Especially those of us who grew up in the radically individualistic Bush/Clinton/Bush era and simply don’t tow any party lines. We scroll through the options of possible representatives–Congress, local government, POTUS–and we’re disappointed to find nothing that fits the bill.
One of the most fascinating developments of the current presidential election is the immense support for Bernie Sanders among my peers. We’re talking support of religious proportions.
Bernie Sanders will save the world.
(Or at least that’s what they think.)
Why do people love him so much? Many conservatives would have us believe that everyone who supports Bernie Sanders is accurately portrayed by the sidewalk interviews they saw on a YouTube video:
“Excuse me, sir, why do you love Bernie Sanders?”
“Because I like free stuff!!”
And then we all shake our heads and ring our hands and think the world is going to hell in a Feel The Bern organic reusable bag.
But, as a bleeding-heart myself, I understand this love for Bernie Sanders. And I know, for a fact, that many people who support Bernie Sanders support him for bleeding-heart reasons more than anything else. I know this because these are my friends and I know their hearts and I know that they bleed for many of the same things mine does.
But Bernie Sanders will not save the world.
And neither will Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio, for that matter.
(You can take that one to the bank.)
Now, if your measurements for defining ideals such as “good” people and a just or right society are mostly influenced by Environmentalism or Humanism or Atheism or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (yes, that’s a thing), then you probably believe I’m wrong about this.
Because, yes, a secular Jewish Marxist President could potentially save the world in the way that you define saving the world: He might work to slow climate change, he may feed all the hungry children in our country, he may ruin Wall Street, and he may make it legal for you to follow your bliss wherever it may lead you.
This, you may say, could create a good, just, right society.
But, if your measurement for what is “good” and “just” and “righteous” comes primarily from the Bible–even if you and I disagree about how literally we should take the Bible and by whose system we interpret the Bible–your hope in Bernie Sanders (or Trump or Clinton or Rubio, etc.) is a false hope.
A quick primer on the Kingdom of God:
By a Biblical definition, a good, just, and righteous people exist under the “reign” of a good, just, and righteous King. As far as I can tell, Christ himself is the only person granted that title. The reign of Christ is a spiritual reality that transcends but informs a group of people called the Church. The Church, by its loyalty to this King and the Kingdom, manifests this good, just, and righteous rule in the world.
It is present but incomplete.
It’s here already, but still coming.
Almost. Not yet. Already.
(Yes, it’s complicated.)
Thankfully, in the Kingdom of God, even those who don’t serve the King benefit from his justice. Where Christ reigns, by his commands to the Church, the earth is healthy and fruitful, children and widows are cherished and cared for, doors and borders are open, work is fulfilling, hard workers are paid their due wage, greed is condemned, and there is hope and joy (and “bliss”).
But, here’s the thing:
The mark of a citizen of God’s Kingdom is more than a full belly; the mark of a citizen of God’s Kingdom is a changed heart. And, sadly, a full belly does not a changed heart make. It can help, yes. It can provide comfort, yes. And it is absolutely important. But the spiritual mission of the Church must exist alongside the physical.
Bernie Sanders will not save you. At least not in the way you need to be saved.
(And not in the way he or she or that baby down the street needs to be saved, either.)
Maybe you already agree with me. (Maybe you don’t; that’s okay.) And if you agree with me, you’re still wondering why you shouldn’t support Bernie Sanders. After all, you have good faith that the “Democratic Socialist” platform looks at least sort of like your picture of the Kingdom of God.
Because Jesus was a Socialist, right?
(I’m reading your mind. I can tell.)
But you’re wrong.
Look, it’s complicated. I am neither an economist nor an expert in Biblical or Constitutional law (or Bernie Sanders, for that matter). But I will challenge my friends (those who are both professed Christians and Bernie supporters) to take a really close look at Democratic Socialist countries and at the Socialist economics they practice and consider the underlying beliefs about religion and religious devotion therein. (If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take it from Lenin himself.)
Fact is: by definition, a Socialist society is a secular society. Meaning: personal faith is private and public faith is absolutely disdained. Religious people are tolerated to the extent with which they keep their faith as a personal matter only.
Now if the Christian faith were, by definition, meant to be a personal matter only, then this would not be a problem. But, Christianity being what it is, this is a problem.
But then what do we do?
What other options do people like me–bleeding-heart conservatives–and many of my peers–Jesus-loving liberals–have when it’s election season and we are supposed to rally our support around a candidate?
This is where I say “I don’t know.”
I haven’t figured it out yet.
When it comes time to cast your vote, you can go ahead and vote for Bernie Sanders. I understand why you’d want to. Because it’s easy to rationalize how a Socialist society might be enacting the Kingdom of God because Socialism does appear to offer some of the things you value like justice and equality. And, in a country with so much injustice and inequity, it might seem like the best option you’ve got.
But consider this:
The government isn’t the only institution with the power to enact justice and equality in the world. Last I checked, the government isn’t the primary means of grace and mercy in the world. And, as far as I know, the government isn’t meant to have the final word on generosity, charity, and kindness.
So, when you vote, consider the future implications of what you’re signing up for. Don’t sign us up for an economy in which the government foots the bill for the work of the Church and the Church is left penniless and voiceless on the sidelines.
Church, that is your job.
For that you don’t need Bernie Sanders.
Your government cannot bail you out of this one.