Most people would probably agree that this presidential election has been the worst ever, a dumpster fire Jerry Springer episode with flourishes of End Times apocalyptica. It’s an election in which 13% of Americans have said they’d rather a meteor hit Earth than live to see either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton elected president. It’s been an exhausting and depressing season, one in which fear and anger are palpable, where suggestions of assassination and actual assassination attempts have both happened this summer, and the nation seems to be teetering on the edge of riots and anarchy. In the midst of this dark, dark political season, how can Christians be a light? As Christ-followers, as a “set apart” people trying to be a faithful presence in this nation, how can we approach this election in a way that doesn’t overemphasize or underemphasize its importance and in a way that doesn’t reflect poorly upon the 1st century Jewish refugee whose name we bear?
I recently led a discussion on politics for the young adults group at my church, and we talked about how we can have a distinctly Christian witness in this horrific election. The following are five ideas I offered for discussion:
1) Be civil in heated political discussions.Try to listen to other perspectives and don't demonize those who disagree with you. Love your enemies. Recognize that thoughtful people of integrity can come to different conclusions on who is the best candidate or who is the least bad. Especially within the body of Christ, don’t let politics create division. But also don’t avoid political conversations out of fear of confrontation. Engage winsomely and respectfully, raising the (very low) bar a bit in our political discourse. As it relates specifically to social media:
- Slow down and think before you tweet or post something politically charged. Think about what you are adding to the conversation by posting it. Take James 1:19 seriously: be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
- It’s OK to post something provocative, but you’d better be ready to facilitate healthy dialogue in the comments section. Consider adding a disclaimer to the post that asks people to keep the comments civil.
- Take the conversation offline! If at all possible, avoid prolonged social media arguments with people who you could just meet up with face-to-face. There is very little room for nuance or complexity on social media, so if an issue necessitates such things, take the conversation offline.
- On social media always be mindful of the non-believers who follow you. What are they seeing? Are they seeing Christians who love others and love one another, or are they seeing Christians who are among the most curmudgeonly, graceless and opinionated of anyone?
2) Recognize that no party will align perfectly with Christian ethics. Use this election as an opportunity to discern where a biblical perspective on various policy issues leads you, not where political party allegiance leads you. What does it really mean to be pro-life, for example? One could argue that a holistic ethic of the sanctity of life includes both traditionally Republican and traditionally Democrat things. For example I would argue that it includes protecting unborn children from abortion as well as advocating for the dignity of the homeless, the refugee, the racially profiled, the immigrant and the sex-trafficking victim. I think environmental stewardship and policies of sustainability are also pro-life. But there is currently no political party that includes all of these things in their platform. That’s just one example but there are many more. We should not try to force a perfect alignment between our faith and a political party’s platform. Too many Christians start with their political party’s positions and try to find biblical justification for them. This is backwards. We should start with the Bible and see where it leads us on the issues.
3) Be willing to prioritize principles over power.Many people are doing the opposite this year. They are putting party allegiance and a fear of losing power and influence ahead of their convictions about character and civility and respect for the dignity of people. As one writer put it recently, Christians are confusing Christianity with Christendom, voting to retain a Christianity that is politically powerful in this kingdom above a Christianity that is an alternative kingdom:
The earliest Christians believed that governing authorities presided over an old order that was passing. They believed that Christ called the church to represent a new order that would never end. Seeking first this new order, God’s kingdom, was their mission. It was their socio-political agenda. So they established churches in every city that served as embassies of God’s kingdom. They invited all people to leave behind their old ambitions and to join them in seeking first God’s kingdom as revealed in Jesus. To vote Christianly, then, is to participate in the electoral process in ways that seek first and bear witness to God’s alternative kingdom. To vote Christendomly is to use the electoral process to retain or recover Christian privilege. In this election, as with any election, we must resist that urge.
4) Be joyful.No matter what happens, God is still sovereign. Jesus still wins. The king is on the throne! As followers of this king we should be people of joy and hope in this political season.
5) Pray. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 calls us to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions.” We ought to be praying for our leaders, current and future, on the local and state and national and global levels. Pray for them to have wisdom and humility. We should also be praying our nation in the midst of this election and beyond, for less division and fear and more unity and charity and hope. Finally we should pray for Christians to live in such a way that their allegiance to Jesus is more important, compelling and noticeable than their allegiance to a political party.