For the Sake of the Elect
It was just a month after the November 2012 election. I was sitting in a conference room at a gathering of influential political leaders and conservative grassroots activists from around the country. We had come together to commiserate over the recent election defeat, share lessons learned from the campaign trail, and exchange strategies and ideas for the future as we assessed the state of our country.
I had been invited to give a presentation on “Outreach to Millennials: Targeting Young Voters While Harnessing New Technology.”
Leaders in the conservative movement were rightly concerned about the youth vote, as both exit polling and demographic research indicated that an increasing number of young people were not voting our way, were departing from traditional moral values, and lacked a basic understanding of fiscal and social responsibility.
Organizers had asked me to tackle questions such as, “How can we reach the younger generation with our message?” “How can we better appeal to them to vote based on biblical values?” “What are some examples of effective marketing techniques?”
I had planned to show a sophisticated PowerPoint demonstrating the latest trends and technology ideas. I was all prepared to talk about creating smartphone apps and infographics and utilizing social media and other creative communication methods to tell stories and illustrate statistics.
But in the back of my mind, I knew none of this was the answer. In fact, I wasn’t even sure we were asking the right questions. So just an hour before my presentation, I scrapped the entire plan and instead scrambled together a few quick slides from a completely different angle.
Instead of focusing on turnout and technology, I emphasized worldview and belief system. Instead of talking about election exit polling, I talked about how so many young people are exiting the church during their college years. Instead of quoting politicians and pollsters, I quoted pastors and seminary professors. In fact, I started my presentation by quoting Dr. Al Mohler’s column from the day after the 2012 election, where he contended, “We face a worldview challenge that is far greater than any political challenge, as we must learn how to winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions.”
You see, throughout the campaign season there was so much talk about “voting your biblical values,” “making moral decisions,” and “following Judeo-Christian principles.” But how can we expect people to “vote their values” when they can’t even define what those values are, and they struggle to articulate what they believe and why they believe it?
And instead of focusing so much on how to creatively market our message, shouldn’t we be focusing more on developing core values and instilling a truth compass? Don’t we need to cultivate moral convictions before trying to tackle surface actions?
Unless we focus on that first and get it right, I told the audience, no amount of technology or turnout efforts will help.
That wasn’t the presentation I was planning to give to a group of political leaders, but it was the one I felt compelled to share… and I even got a few “amens” from the crowd. It was in this moment that I knew God was calling me out of partisan politics for the next season of my life and into something that would address the more fundamental questions and challenges of our day–and the needs and longings of every human heart.
The Deeper Issue
I am often asked, “What is the biggest lesson you learned from the campaign trail?” To many people’s surprise, it wasn’t about technology or turnout or demographics or economics.
It was this: People need Jesus.
It sounds so simple, perhaps even simplistic. But in every state and city and community I visited during election season, that was the one common denominator.
My political adventures and campaign travels took me across the country to places and people I never thought I’d encounter… from Boston and Denver to Detroit and Chicago.
By far, the most time I spent outside my home state of Georgia was in the swing states of Florida and Ohio, during the final months of the 2012 campaign.
While in Florida, I spent significant time in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton, visiting some of the most picturesque and affluent areas I’ve ever seen. I met people who admittedly had more money than they knew what to do with, wealthy retirees who had worked hard all their lives and now seemed to have every imaginable material pleasure. But far too many of them were lacking a sense of life purpose, and oftentimes their restless conversations focused on deep regrets about their past or uncertainties about their future. In the midst of asking them to “max out” and write big checks to our candidates, all I could think of was this: these precious people need Jesus. They needed to know that there was a God who could give them meaning at every stage in life, that their identity was so much more than their previous professional titles, that they could invest their resources in things of eternal value.
I often thought about G.K. Chesterton’s observation that meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain; rather, meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure. And I saw too much evidence of this along the trail.
From pristine Palm Beach Gardens I was sent to Akron, Ohio, for the final weeks leading up to the election. In what was a drastic change of scenery, I spent the next several days in Akron’s industrial areas and Canton’s underdeveloped neighborhoods where I met one person after another who was one step away from bankruptcy. I talked to young single moms who were working three hourly jobs and concerned about keeping the heat on in their homes, older men who were struggling to pay their child support and put gas in their cars at the same time. Yes, some of these people had made bad decisions early in their lives and were now faced with the consequences, but my heart broke for them.
Here we were, trying to convince them to vote for our candidates, the guys who we said would fix the economy and create jobs. And while I truly believed in our team and our message, I felt even more strongly that in that moment, what these struggling people needed most was Jesus. They needed to know that there was a God who forgave and could redeem their past, a God who was bigger than the environment in which they felt trapped, a God who was powerful enough to provide for their physical and spiritual needs. And no political party or elected official could give them that assurance.
The Only True Hope
We are living in a culture without a compass right now. In each segment of society, we see people wandering without direction. At the same time, leaders in every arena—from government and media to education and entertainment, and, sadly, even in some churches—are increasingly advancing a message that downplays personal responsibility and emphasizes moral relativism, ignoring life’s fundamental questions and instead focusing on superficial solutions.
We can talk about the sanctity of life and marriage, and we must. But to truly create a culture of life and family, shouldn’t we first approach these issues at a deeper level, convincing people of life’s origin and destiny, of meaning and purpose and design?
We can fight for religious liberty and free speech, and a personal passion of mine, academic freedom and higher education reform—and we must. But what good are all the First Amendment freedoms in the world if students can’t articulate what they believe and professors aren’t willing to stand up for their convictions in the marketplace of ideas?
We can seek to hold individuals in authority accountable—from university administrators to elected officials to members of the media—when they unashamedly mock God and undermine biblical principles, and we must. But unless people have a relationship with the One who created them and understand his plan for their lives, can we really expect them to act any differently?
Yes, the political challenges are great. But the worldview divide is even greater. My involvement in the political arena—as exciting and rewarding as it has been—has only deepened my burden for reaching the lost with the gospel message and helping believers view everything through a biblical lens. I am especially heartbroken that so many young people who claim the name of Christ cannot articulate even basic biblical beliefs, let alone explain or defend anything about how their faith informs their values and decisions—and I saw this time and again on the campaign trail. As the church, and as individuals, we must focus on foundational elements first before expecting people to agree with us on policies or candidates.
We know that the only true hope is found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. And his name is the one our country—and our world—needs to hear. All the public policy initiatives we promote and activism causes we engage in are important, and indeed can be an effective avenue for promoting biblical principles and sharing Christ with others in direct and indirect ways. However, ultimately we know government is not the answer to people’s deepest need. We must never forget that, and our own passions and priorities must reflect this knowledge.
The Lens of Eternity
I still believe in America. I am incredibly grateful for the countless ways God has blessed this great land, and humbled that He has providentially allowed me to call America my home. But more than that, I believe in the One who created the universe and holds eternity in his hands, and I want to commit myself anew to living with an eternal perspective and taking his redemptive message to a world that needs a Savior.
Over the past ten years God opened doors for me in government where I sought to influence those in authority and help advance biblical values, and I have no regrets. As Eric Metaxas often says, the question for Christians is how—not whether—to be involved in politics. God desires to use his children to impact every arena of society, and with America at a crossroads, the needs in today’s government are monumental. Throughout the ages, from the Old Testament to the present day, we see believers who were placed in strategic roles of influence and approached their public platform through the lens of eternity. As C.S. Lewis stated, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next…. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” So even as we seek to stand up for scriptural principles today and contend for life and liberty in the public square, we must do so with a compassion for the hurting and an understanding that our true citizenship is in heaven.
In his 2013 Baccalaureate address at Liberty University, Ravi Zacharias challenged graduates to go courageously into a formidable society, taking heart in the eternal power of the gospel. “You are facing a tough world. You are facing a changing world. You are facing a resistant world. You are facing a hostile world. But the gospel story is always used to rising up and outliving its pallbearers. Take the message: it is alive; it is powerful; it is transforming.” That’s timely advice, and not just for the Class of 2013.
So as I approach this next season of my life, my priorities have shifted. Instead of talking in terms of opinion polls and electoral majorities and changing demographics, I want to focus on faith and hope, on living boldly in a dark world, on the constant truth of God’s Word and the only One who is mighty to save. I feel strongly called to invest my time and energy in evangelism and apologetics, and I am delighted that God has provided unique avenues for me to do just that through RZIM.
On a personal note, to the many people who have encouraged me along the way, I am so grateful for your support and would value your prayers for this next step in my journey. To my friends and former colleagues in the political arena who are faithfully pursuing God’s calling in a challenging environment, I applaud your courage and will continue to pray for your witness as salt and light among today’s leaders in our government.
Finally, for all of us, we must never forget who it is we are ultimately serving in life. Not a political party or movement, not even a church or ministry, but the God who created us in his image and sent us his Son who died on a cross that we may have life. Always rely on the ultimate truth of Jesus Christ instead of men’s fleeting promises. Take confidence in his infinite justice and love over secular notions of fairness and success. Derive your identity from a personal relationship with God rather than the accolades of others, and—no matter what field you are in—live in light of eternity, making your limited time on earth count for what matters most to our Lord.
Ruth Malhotra is Public Relations Manager at RZIM.