That is the opening line to Bob Dylan’s 1989 song “Political World.” The poet laureate of rock ’n’ roll ends the song with these lines: We live in a political world / Everything is hers or his / Climb into the frame and shout God’s name / But you’re not even sure what it is.
In this political world where we find ourselves today, people are shouting—not only God’s name, but also at their political enemies, creating perpetual clamor and stirring up fear. People shout because, sadly, we share less and less in common. Instead of working in cooperation for the common good, many modern political people divide up everything into hers and his, ours and theirs. We shout about what is good for us, and we shout about what we don’t like about them.
We need some kind of civil governance if we are going to achieve any degree of social order and human flourishing, but the current ideological divide between elephants and donkeys doesn’t provide much hope . . . even if their shouting is loud. They both attempt to draw us into their orbits, to convince us to buy into their platforms, to persuade us to put our trust in them. But as followers of Jesus, we pledge our allegiance to the Lamb.
John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, nrsv). In the book of Revelation, Jesus is depicted as the Lamb who reigns from the “center of the throne” (Revelation 7:17, nrsv). He is our shepherd and guide. While we may cast our votes for some version of elephants or donkeys, we resist their angry shouts and pursue the way of the Lamb. Here are five ways we can follow the Lamb when donkeys and elephants seem to be the loudest voices in our political world.
#1 Follow the Lamb who is King
The cross of Jesus rescues us from sin, death, and the devil, and the cross also reveals the nature of the Kingdom of God. Jesus died as a King. The mockery of the soldiers who pressed a cruel crown made of thorns into his skull ended in the triumph of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. When we look at the cross through the perspective of the resurrection, we see that through dying—through cosuffering love—Jesus was becoming King. He will not rule someday; he is ruling as King now. By faith we follow Jesus, the Lamb of God, as King, and we live as Kingdom citizens—in rhythm with the values of the Kingdom of God.
#2 Let King Jesus shape your political imagination
Elephants and donkeys can quote Scripture to fit it neatly into their platforms, but neither can fully embody the politics of King Jesus. Their politics are built on coercion, not peace; rhetoric, not truth; and greed, not generosity. If we are going to follow Jesus faithfully, we will have to turn down the volume on the elephants and donkeys and turn up the volume on the Lamb so that our ways of thinking about politics are formed around Jesus’ political vision. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 is not only for interpersonal relationships. That sermon serves as Jesus’ political manifesto.
#3 Reject partisanship for Christian community
Followers of Jesus may experience a sense of belonging upon affiliating with a political party, but it comes at the expense of their Lamb-like identity. Affiliating with a political party shapes a person into the image of that party because we look like the people with whom we associate. The pull of political power distorts our moral vision around one political platform, and we begin to look at the other political party with contempt. The goal of the Christian life is to become more like Jesus, the Lamb of God—and the primary place where the Spirit is at work making us more like Jesus is the church. We faithfully follow Jesus when our sense of identity is formed by Christian community and not partisan politics.
#4 Practice political engagement dispassionately
We all know people who are passionate about their political opinions like obsessed sports fans are about their teams. On the other hand, we all know people who vote without investing much time in the constant vitriol between the elephants and the donkeys. There is no denying that we live in a political world and that politics affects people. So while politics is not the most important part of civic society, it is necessary. Politicians enact policies that have an effect on people, and people matter to God. So we have valid reasons to participate in the political process. However, we should participate in a way that prevents us from falling into the antagonistic “us versus them” paradigm of partisan politics. For me, this looks like educating myself on local, state, and national matters and then participating in the voting process, but dispassionately. My hope is not in the bodies of government but in the Kingdom of God.
#5 Begin your day with prayer, not political news
The habits we keep form us into the people we become. Consuming massive amounts of political news can be a destructive habit. Instead of accessing political news in the morning, I suggest that followers of Jesus begin the day with prayer and Scripture reading. Prayer is a subversive act in our secular age, when political clamoring and positioning seeks to fill our lives with meaning and substance. A steady diet of political news and commentary has the potential to lead followers of the Lamb down the broad road toward destruction. To prevent a free fall toward destruction, spend time in the morning with an open Bible. Pray the Psalms. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. If you belong to a liturgical church, pray the prayers you have learned there. Pray without words. Sit in silence in the presence of Jesus. Begin your days with practices like these, and you will find your faith in the Lamb deepening and growing.
Derek Vreeland (D.Min. Asbury Theological Seminary) is the Discipleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of numerous books including Primal Credo, N.T. Wright and the Revolutionary Cross, and By the Way and is a regular contributor at Missio Alliance. He and his wife, Jenni, live in Missouri and have three sons, a daughter-in-law, and one grandson.