Grandiose empty promises. Soulless, narcissistic speeches. Shameless vote buying. Back-room deals. Pandering to special interests. Ballot box stuffing. Yes, some of my Grade 4 students, if left to their own devices, would resort to these tactics and more to win the start-of-year elections for class leadership positions, such is their insatiable lust for power. Informal polling suggests that ‘being really good at basketball’ and ‘throwing fun birthday parties’ are the traits that the electorate is most looking for in its leaders. And these popular votes, at times, lead to beguiling results.
‘The voice of the people is the voice of God,’ so the saying goes. This statement (in its Latin form, ‘Vox populi, vox Dei.’) was seized upon by Enlightenment thinkers to tout the glories of democracy. What they meant, despite the lip-service, was that God was irrelevant (along with the kings and clerics, who claimed to be His* mouthpieces); ‘the people’ would now order society as they saw fit, bringing a new age of liberty and justice to the world. They were saying to God, ‘Nice work, buddy, but we’ll take it from here.’
Interestingly, many from my tribe have turned ‘vox populi, vox Dei’ on its head, and have ordained a rather ironic marriage as a result. They have maintained the Enlightenment’s ‘self-evident truths’ – its inalienable rights, social contracts and the virtue of popular rule – but re-inserted God into the frame. In this version, God deeply shares our democratic ideals and is intimately invested in our system of government. He’s* the Man Behind the Curtain, pulling the levers and spinning the wheels, ensuring that His anointed one, by way of the ‘people’s voice’, is brought to power, the person through whom He’ll at last accomplish His righteous judgements for the nation and the world.
The Real Anointed One
When we look at God’s actual Anointed One, we find that he was, funnily enough, not all that interested in popular opinion. His friends, followers and general admirers, with one voice, urged and expected him to lead a militant political uprising for national liberation, and the authorities feared that he would. Instead, he launched an altogether different sort of movement, for a different sort of Kingdom, one that stirred and developed beneath the surface, like a seed in the earth or yeast in a batch of dough. He sharply criticised his society’s power-brokers for neglecting to shepherd the people. In this way, he deliberately echoed the biblical prophets like Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah, who also issued scathing critiques against the heads of the nation (the kings and priests – apparently, God’s anointed rulers). Their crimes? Injustice and oppression, a lack of humility, treating the poor and vulnerable with contempt, and failing to show kindness.
The Real Voice of God
As disciples of Jesus, we are intended to represent him (as he represented the Father!), to speak with his voice to the world.
Clearly, many in our communities are disillusioned, angry and fearful. Their economic well-being has diminished, their sense of security is threatened, and they feel genuinely abandoned by their politicians. They’re nostalgic for a time when everything appeared brighter and the world was, seemingly, a more simple and straight-forward place. We must show them compassion and speak with a voice of understanding. We should ask, ‘What can we do to ease your burdens?’
Others are feeling increasingly vulnerable following the results of the U.S. election. When women and minorities and migrants and Muslims and homosexuals are threatened, our immediate response should be to ensure they are protected. We should speak with a voice of love and solidarity, one that cries out against prejudice and vilification. We should ask, ‘What can we do better to welcome you, support you and to help you to feel safe?’
We can’t assume that winning a popular election indicates God’s seal of approval, as though He* will gleefully rubber-stamp the winner’s policies and decisions, however misguided they may be. Nor can we fall into the trap of seeing God as distant, disconnected, cracking open a few cold ones and enjoying a well-earned staycation while the powers-that-be get on with it. God expects us to cooperate with our leaders when they seek to improve the lives of our neighbours. He* also expects us, like the prophets, to ‘speak truth to power’, to challenge them when their actions harm those most at risk in our society. But He* expects us to do all of this in a voice of respect, one that (here’s the hard part) honours the leaders we have.
No, the voice of the people isn’t really the voice of God, in the Enlightenment sense. Rather, God entrusts His* people with His* voice – an awesome responsibility!
What words will we speak with that voice?
* I believe that God is beyond gender. It’s backed up by the fact that both women and men are created in God’s image – meaning both ‘female’ and ‘male’ must be aspects of God’s make-up. Unfortunately, English has no gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun. So I’ve followed the established convention.
- ‘Vote for Pedro’ T-Shirt image from Amazon.com.
- ‘We the People’ image from Wikimedia Commons.
- ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ image from Wikimedia Commons.