Okay, 122,000 Iowans have rendered whatever political judgment predominantly white, wealthy and conservative Christians in a farm state can render in a nation that is racially diverse, income-challenged, religiously mixed and increasingly urban.

As a liberal Democrat, I watch the unfolding Republican campaign with interest but no investment. As a citizen, I am pleased that people care enough to vote and that all votes count. A zesty campaign is good for democracy.

Cozad_02As a Christian, however, I am appalled at candidates’ flagrant abuse of the Gospel. They trumpet the worst kind of religion: judgmental, harsh, legalistic, exclusionary, demagogic.

In pandering to the right, they turn prayer into a weapon, Jesus into their partisan, and God into a monster. They score points in the culture wars by trashing a Messiah whose actual words and deeds sound nothing like their stump speeches.

Religion is a powerful weapon for those who seek power. Demagogues routinely surround themselves with religious spectacles, cherry-pick sacred texts to denounce their political enemies, and turn people’s trust in God into shouts of rage. Just as Satan used Scripture against Jesus, so do power-seekers weave the Gospel into their dishonest rhetoric.

It is important, therefore, that we hear John the Baptist dealing directly with power. He didn’t explain Jesus as a nicer guy, a brighter intellect, a man of better lineage, or a holder of right-opinion on cultural concerns. John said Jesus was “more powerful.”

He came bearing God’s power – the power that stands up against the darkness, the power that rains justice on people, not angry religion. His power beckoned lives to change toward the good. His power defied custom and crossed the very cultural boundaries that today’s politicians defend as sacred.

Christianity, at its best, lifts up this power, not as an excuse to claim a worldly throne, but as the light by which all can find life. Christianity doesn’t name enemies and threaten punitive legislation; it loves enemies and sees all humanity as worthy. Christianity doesn’t demonize gays, immigrants or minorities; it welcomes all to God’s table.

Christianity doesn’t align itself with one political party; it commands all power-seekers to be just and merciful. Christianity doesn’t exalt one nation; it shines God’s light to all nations.

We can’t cause politicians to be anything other than what they are. But we can, following John, welcome the greater power of God. The “gospel” that will be shouted now in New Hampshire and South Carolina isn’t the Gospel that John proclaimed and Jesus lived. We need to tell the true story.

(This post is from my On a Journey Daily Meditation series. You can subscribe to these weekday reflections at http://www.morningwalkmedia.com/subscribe/.)