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Elections and bloodshed

A friend with long experience in East Africa remarked to me some years ago, “The crazy thing is that in 100 years of African politics, nobody has ever lost an election.” He paused there, and I supplied a guess: “The elections were all stolen?”


He was speaking from his experience in a country that was rocked with about 1500 deaths and several hundred-thousand displacements because of rioting in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election. I was making my guess based on our family’s experience in a southern African country.


A Sad but True Tale from Africa

The African country that was our home from 1977-1984 had its first national election when it became independent in 1966. It held its second election in 1970, as scheduled in its new constitution. The ruling party was certain of retaining its majority in the 60-seat parliament.


On the evening of the 1970 election, the government radio station announced the election results until the government party and the opposition each had won 23. Then the 23-23 tally was broadcast several times as if no further results were coming in.


Finally a different announcement was made—the election was suspended because massive voter fraud was uncovered. In the following days, members of the country’s army drove to the town where the opposition was headquartered, arrested 29 leaders, lined them up, and shot them.


During those tense weeks the government radio station constantly played a new song in the local language. It had an upbeat rhythm of celebration, and the chorus said, “[Prime Minister’s name] IS the government, my child. You hear, you fear, my child.” 


An “Interim Parliament” was appointed in 1970 by the ruling party, and new elections were promised, but seven years later when we arrived and seven more years later when we moved home to the U.S., the “Interim” was still entrenched. The party in power kept saying that people did not want new elections because “Elections mean bloodshed, and nobody wants that!”


Do Elections Mean Bloodshed?

Will power holders kill to prevent an election? Will they kill to retain their power after being voted out? Will followers of a “losing” candidate riot and kill if they think an election has been stolen? Those things are rare in Europe and North America, but common elsewhere, and 83.5% of the world’s population lives elsewhere. Even in America we are seeing violent election disputes in recent years, and there is already talk of violence concerning this year’s election.


How can something as simple as elections be such a huge problem in so many places? The simple answer is that the wrong people are holding power, people who cannot be trusted to count votes accurately. Obvious solution: Replace the “wrong people” with the “right people,” or at least “better” people who will tell the public the truth about election outcomes. Replace the wrong people by using votes if you can and bloodshed if you have to.


A Hypothetical Mind-bending Experiment

If that simple solution—wrong people out, right people in—sounds plausible to you, I invite you to imagine it coming from Jesus’s mouth. Suppose that sometime in the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus said to his disciples:


“All right, my friends, I’ll be leaving soon and I don’t want any confusion about your strategy before I come back to stun the unbelieving world and take power publicly.


“Here’s my plan. Stick together here in Israel and build up my following. Get control of the religious establishment, including the Temple. Outside of Israel try to get as many of your followers as you can into the Roman army and the Roman imperial administration, including some high positions. That way you can get favorable treatment for my church—even in parts of the Empire where you don’t hold total political power yet.


“As you acquire more power at all levels in Israel, use it to create the kind of country that I would create if I were running it myself. Be compassionate and fair. No power abuse. Do not turn a blind eye to evil, especially any religious or immoral evil. Develop a model society so exemplary that the whole world will take note and start copying it.


“When societies outside Israel want to learn about your successful methods, send people to teach them, but be strategic. Concentrate on one or two societies at a time or you will fritter your power away. When you reach a critical mass of followers in a society, build up their influence and power so that particular society can become a model like Israel.


“Societies and cultures that copy you will thrive. Those that don’t will end up as failed states. But even the failed states will be saved in the end because the citizenry will become so outraged at the abuse of power that made their societies fail. They will install new leaders and demand that those leaders learn from you.


“In the end, this strategy will pay off and the whole world will be much better off. When I return, the world will acknowledge me, the Messiah, as the mastermind and leader of all your work between now and then. So gather and consolidate power, use it wisely in my name, and I will tell you, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’”


Does that sound like Jesus? No, more like Muhammad. That strategy would fit nicely with an Islamic outlook on power. Christian nationalists unwittingly buy into it as well. Christian nationalism (and Islam) exist where people are clueless about biblical messianism.


Biblical messianism says that elections do not determine the future. The Messiah does. He brings the future into the present, not by seizing and consolidating visible political power and not by teaching people to be kind. He brings it by a different kind of bloodshed—the Messiah’s blood, willingly sacrificed. Jesus accepted an unjust death as God’s will for him personally instead of shedding the blood of others to defend himself. The Messiah’s blood is the source of the power to change today’s world into the world of the future.


The trouble with the world is not that a few of the wrong people are holding lots of power. No, the problem is that billions of ordinary people are clueless about the Messiah’s power to bring the future here and now, one step at a time.


Power Season is the time in the annual SYNC cycle to get clued in and join the Messiah’s campaign to change the world through the power of his Spirit. Are you feeling you can’t make a difference in the world? Power up with the SYNC “Tool Kit” for Power Season!


Want to change the world? Want less bloodshed? Share a link to this blog post and tell your friends why you shared it.


That may not seem earth-shaking to you, but little things like that are the things the Messiah uses to drive his information campaign forward. Information about Jesus—and especially about Jesus and power—changes the present world into the world of the future, the Messianic era when there is no bloodshed. Let’s go, friends! Get the word out!

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