New Year’s Eve is always fun in our household. Games, snacks all day, “The Twilight Zone” marathon on Syfy, a toast and, of course, watching the countdown in Times Square. This year, our small kids stayed up with us and we had so much fun together as a family, excited and hyped as the ball began to drop and we saw the digits for the new year light up. Still, beneath my excitement, there was some apprehension and almost some nervousness building within me alongside the anticipation, because 2024, for anyone who has been paying attention, is going to be a pivotal year of choosing.
It will be a time of choosing for our country, with what will likely be an intense and chaotic election year, and it will be a time of choosing for evangelical Christians, for what our response will be to this moment and what our message and focus will be as our nation and world reels with uncertainty, chaos, fear, division and anger. What will be the hope of the Christian? What will we be known for? What matters the most? These are all major questions that this year we will need to answer, for ourselves, and for the world that is watching.
My wife and I recently watched a movie that resonated with us. It centered around a family that rented a house to get away. Soon after their vacation started, the family they rented the house from returned to it, as bizarre things started happening. Wi-Fi went down, technology stopped working, loud screeching noises occurred, animals behaved strangely, and leaflets were dropped by drones in a foreign language warning of “Death to America.”
As these two families, one white and one black, struggled with trusting each other to try and figure out what is happening, and whether “normal will ever come back,” things went from bad to worse with one of the kids from one of the two families getting a mysterious illness. Who can they turn to for help? Eventually they headed to a loner for help, someone known for being a survivalist preparing for an apocalyptic freefall of society.
As they asked him for help, at first, he refused, saying to them, “Haven’t you been paying attention to what’s been going on out there?” Things got intense as the loner survivalist threatened to shoot them despite having known one of the families for years. The confrontation turning into violence was narrowly averted, but it causes one of the main central characters of the movie to reflect on what he believes is happening. He speculated that individuals or groups have committed cyberterrorism to spread disinformation and use our divisions against each other so that we would descend into all-out civil war and chaos.
The movie was frightening but not because of its scary moments or plot, but because of how realistic it seemed. As said in the movie, have we been paying attention to what is going on out there?
America is heading not just to an inflection point, but a collision point of sorts and the fate of our democracy and republic as we know it is at stake, and ironically, that is something the far political right and left can agree on, but for vastly different reasons and interpretations of reality. Our nation’s fragile experiment is in peril as our political and ideological tribalism has continued to further divide our nation to such a degree that as a God-fearing patriot, I am concerned for what future America my children will be growing into adults in. Once visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia, we were reminded by the tour guide of Benjamin Franklin’s quip and warning that we have a republic “if we can keep it.” Will we be able to keep our republic and preserve the peaceful transfer of power? This is the question that is before us as citizens.
But another question is before us as Christians. Will we, in 2024, be able to keep our witness? Will we be able to maintain authenticity to the outside world? Will we be able to vote our conscience and stand up for what we believe in but without violating what we believe in? Will we stay on mission with carrying out the Great Commission or will we be more passionate in sharing partisan opinion?
Will we see those we disagree with on major things as demons who should be hated or as human beings who are loved and wanted by God, enough that he gave his son, Jesus Christ, for them? Will we stay loyal to Jesus Christ, or will we be willing to be disloyal to him, trading his message for another, and choose to get caught up in the heat of the partisan moment rather than to stand out for the light and love of Christ we should be projecting to those around us.
As Christians, the times we are living in are perilous, as the Bible forewarns. Society is on a downward moral and spiritual spiral in various tragic ways, and as always has been the case throughout history, true followers of Jesus are always called to go against the grain of culture. We should defend religious freedom; we should defend the unborn; we should be willing to stand up for what we believe in on every major issue where culture, our faith and politics collide, but we should not be willing to sell out our values and our faith for the sake of political power and influence. We should not be willing to marry Christianity with any political figure or party, because any such marriage will be an unholy one that will inevitably lead to corruption and hypocrisy.
We must choose what our message will be to the world around us. Will it be partisan, or will it be prophetic? Will we be more enthusiastic about political bullet points to own the other side, or will we be passionate about sharing Jesus with liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats? Pastor Shane Pruitt said, “One of our biggest problems is that a lot of Christians are being discipled by the nightly news more than they are the good news.”
As Christians, we are commissioned to share the good news that God so loved the world, he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Is this the message we are sending and sharing? There is a spiritual enemy that absolutely wants us to be more distracted on saving America than on saving souls, which wants us to be more about an election outcome by any means necessary than on maintaining an authentic witness to an increasingly secular and unbelieving world.
We must choose whether we will be led by fear or by hope. To be sure, there are many scary and concerning things happening all around us, but repeatedly we are told not to be afraid; in fact, we are told in scripture, “Be not frightened of anything by your opponents” (Philippians 1:28), and yet it would seem as if we were afraid. Yet no matter what happens this year, or beyond, our hope and assurance is in knowing that God is ultimately sovereign over history and that ultimately, Jesus will win. Do we really believe that? Do we function as though we believe that?
We must choose whether politics will inform our faith, or our faith will inform our politics. We must not allow our faith to be hijacked and used to manipulate others into cannon fodder for political ambition and power or be reduced to a left vs. right political and ideological struggle.
As Rich Villodas said, “The church is not to be found at the center of a left/right political world. The church is to be a species of its own kind, confounding left, right and so-called middle, and finding its identity from the center of God’s life.”
Do we want as evangelical Christians to be identified by the outside world for how we vote and who we support in an election or by how we live and how we love and how we speak the truth in love? That is the choice we must make in 2024.
“Choose this day whom you will serve.” - Joshua 24:15
The Rev. Stephen Mitchell is the senior pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Maryland. He also is the host of a regular podcast, “Real Christian Talk with Pastor Steve,” available on all podcast platforms.
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