Photo Courtesy of Bridgewater Community Church

April 14, 2016

GOD’S OLD PARTY | Covenants Don’t Change

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I feel a fatigue settling in the presidential race—like the post-spring break push to the end of the semester, it’s a sluggish time of the year. We hear stories of a Cruz or Bernie insurgency, but all things considered, it’s unlikely either candidate can unseat the frontrunners in their respective parties. Loyal Bernie and Cruz supporters are hopeful for a prolonged summer convention bloodbath. That may or may not need to happen. I sense that most Americans are beginning to accept the inevitable: a Trump vs. Hillary showdown in November. It goes without saying that this matchup should be of interest to evangelical voters.

Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently called a Trump vs. Hillary election an “unusual challenge” for evangelicals. He added that it would “raise a host of new worldview issues with incredible urgency for confessing Christians.”

Mohler’s comments are telling in not just what he says but in what he tries to imply, below the surface. What “new worldview issues” is he referring to? Why is there an “incredible urgency” that confessing Christians must embrace in this election? I am wary of such heightened language.

I think Mohler was articulating the challenge he believes Christians will face in choosing between two candidates whose character and policy proposals are unpalatable to Christian values. That’s probably what he intended to mean. To a passerby, however, Mohler may sound like another man preaching into the loudspeaker that this election will change everything (says every politician in every election ever). Mohler’s sobering assessment can too easily be caricaturized as an apocalyptic warning that scares voters in one direction or another. But it shouldn’t be.

The Christian worldview, since Jesus Christ—his birth, death, resurrection, and ascension—does not rise or fall on the presidential vote, or any institutions for that matter. One benefit of the separation of church and state is that the Christian church does not need to “keep up” with the times. A religious institution grounded on unattached ideals can coexist within a pluralistic society and democratic government without being co-oped by either. But even religious institutions can change—the Protestant Reformation is a good example. Nonetheless, the core tenets of the faith itself—one God, salvation, repentance, forgiveness, etc.—are unshakable and nonnegotiable. The upshot of all this is that elections of our nation’s leaders do not change the Christian faith. Unlike presidential terms, faith has no turnover rate.

Each election cycle surfaces the relentless American pursuit of change and progress. Evangelical voters form part of the scramble for allegiances—to a party, an ideal, and a vision for the nation. Yet the Christian view understands that government, as important and necessary as it is, has its limits in what it can provide. David Brooks wrote that covenant relationships, not contracts, tie members of a society to each other.

When we go out and do a deal, we make a contract. When we are situated within something it is because we have made a covenant. A contract protects interests, Pally notes, but a covenant protects relationships. A covenant exists between people who understand they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people.

I find it interesting that Brooks quotes Ruth 1:16 verbatim in his description of a vow (see italics). Ruth was a young Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family—a rare and forbidden practice. After Ruth’s husband died, Ruth made the choice to follow her mother-in-law Naomi to Israel, a land foreign and hostile to Ruth’s people. This is where the quote comes in. Ruth showed her unswerving devotion to Naomi by leaving everything behind; she was faithful at great cost. The story of Ruth is particularly important in the biblical narrative because she, a Moabite woman, belonged in the genealogy from Adam that would ultimately lead to Jesus. Her covenant foreshadowed a greater and more complete covenant to come.

The story of Ruth is encouraging to the Christian who, like many Americans, is disillusioned by politics. Government is a contract (social contract theory, anyone?). Government protects and advances interests, some more than others. Governments are transactional. Governments change. A covenant, however, is more than a contract. As Brooks says, covenants seal relationships. They foster security and commitment. Like Ruth’s selfless commitment to Naomi, covenants are unconditional and unmovable.

If evangelical voters view politics through the perspective of contracts, this upcoming election has all the reasons to appear bewildering and worrisome. If, however, evangelical voters understand that covenants need not change when contracts do, then this election may mean less than all the hype makes it to be. At the very least, it should give leaders like Mohler pause when they talk about an “incredible urgency” to “new worldview issues.”

Andrew is a junior Government major in the College of Arts and Sciences. God’s Old Party appears on alternate Thursdays this semester. He can be reached at [email protected].