In today’s political world there is much discussion over the nature of the time in which we live. For many reasons on both sides of the aisle, our political parties have become polarized to the point where we are separated into one of two categories, neither of which is based on core or fundamental principles, but rather on simple opposition to the other party.
We are currently at a point of division that many believe history has never seen before. The election, and now the presidency of Donald Trump, has personified this ever-growing political climate simply because we, as Americans, are forced into one of two extreme corners: one extreme being that Donald Trump will be the savior of the world, and the other proclaiming that he will orchestrate the extermination of all life on earth.
Both of these are wrong. Wrong, because these are the beliefs that lead us to the thought that we are living in Trump’s America.
Those who have faced the challenges of history did not set the path for the present by believing they lived in someone else’s world. They understood that they as individuals were the masters of their own destiny. We are the heirs of the patriotic beliefs that not only founded a nation, but revolutionized the world. As the bearers of that ancestral burden—and more profoundly, as Christians—how can we believe that anyone other than ourselves is responsible for our life?
This never has been, and never will be, anyone else’s America but ours as individuals. Therefore, by definition, America’s destiny doesn’t belong to the executive, or to the legislative, or to the judicial branches; but rather, our destiny lies in the hands of everyday people. In the words of President Dwight Eisenhower, “The final battle against intolerance is to be fought—not in the chambers of any legislature—but in the hearts of men.” We can’t pawn the responsibility for our lives, our duties to humanity, and our salvation onto anyone else, including the executive of our national community.
Christianity is not simply a ritual that is played out on Sunday mornings—it is a lifestyle that affects and influences all that we do. This is the approach that we as Christians bring to politics, but unknowingly we are led to an outcome that is inherently different from the life we intended to live as Christians in a secular world. We have developed this idea that our political leaders must be some sort of “Christian figure” in both their beliefs and actions. But let us remember that they are the head of the State, not the head of the Church.
This desire we have for our leaders isn’t necessarily wrong, but judging them upon this standard most certainly is. It is wrong, first and foremost, for us to assume that we have the moral superiority and wisdom from the Church to apply it to the very different world of secular government. As Christ says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
Secondly it is wrong for us to call for separation of Church and State when it is convenient in removing the judgment of government from the life of the Church, but not when removing the Church’s judgment of the government. As the Church, our job is to pray for the President and all those in public service—nothing more. If we desire for our political leaders to act in accordance with the beliefs of the Church, and are then highly disappointed when they don’t, are we not questioning the authority and hierarchy of the Church, and unknowingly asking for a government-run spiritual life? Is this not a life that is in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ?
The example that we have as the Church in regards to our relationship with the State comes to us from Scripture when Christ is delivered to Pilate. It is in this moment where the authority of heaven meets the authority of the world, and therefore the perfect example to our modern political system and how the separation between Church and State must be conducted.
In this exchange, Christ proclaims that His authority is beyond that of Pilate’s, and any engagement with Pilate would acknowledge the world’s authority over that which is heavenly. Christ’s silence alleviates any debate over who rules our secular society and who rules the divine.
We as Christians must respect and understand that our relationship with God is not equivalent to our relationship with government. We must always remember the words of Christ in which He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Our calling is not to fight the world and its governments, but rather it is a much greater calling: it is to live, to love, and to grow towards our Father’s kingdom.
If we are concerned that Christianity is ever in danger because of who holds political office, we are doubting the power and protection of God and the faith of our ancestors, and falsely believing that our Christian faith is subject to the actions of others. As with Christ, once we acknowledge the two different worlds, and their respective authorities, we will begin to see that it doesn’t matter who is in political power—for they govern our secular life—but we hold the keys to our thoughts, our actions, and most importantly, our hearts.
While the government physically holds all that will rust, decay, deteriorate, and ultimately return to the earth from which it came, we possess that which cannot be touched, and therefore that which cannot be removed from our hearts. If our spiritual life changes with administrations, then we are empowering the wrong authority, and clearly rejecting the teachings of Christ.
As Christians in America we are either focused on this idea that somehow we are persecuted, or that Donald Trump can change the course of our lives, and ultimately, of our salvation. Neither of these is entirely true.
It is true, though, that there is persecution in America, but it isn’t we Christians who are suffering. It’s our brothers and sisters who go to bed hungry, thirsty, and naked because we are aren’t taking care of them. Have we become too concerned with either positively or negatively judging the actions of the executive, in regards to his individual response to the calling from Christ, that we’ve missed our calling? Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change himself.”
It is easy for us to sit back and judge Donald Trump on his actions, as he is in the spotlight. The media’s eager coverage of all he does gives us much to comment on.
But in the end, I’m the one who will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and He will ask me how I treated the least of these. It will be my actions, not Donald Trump’s, that determine my place among the sheep and the goats.
Stefan Kleinhenz is 19 years old and beginning his freshman year at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He hopes to pursue many of his interests during his undergraduate studies, including theology, politics, history, literature, public speaking, and writing. Earlier this year Public Orthodoxy published his “What Is Our Political Time?” , the speech that he delivered at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival. Stefan grew up at St. Spyridon’s Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego CA.