It’s already begun. The slow burn of political angst and maneuvering which will culminate in the rolling boil of next year’s American presidential election cycle has already been ignited. The candidates may be different – well, some of them, anyway – but the song remains the same. Right and left demonize each other, blaming the other side of the aisle for all of our nation’s ills and a forfeited future of national greatness. And many evangelicals end up singing along with each round.
Barring an abstention from or ambivalence about politics altogether, how can we avoid getting caught up in the fray? How can Christians participate in our electoral privileges, and even discuss and debate relevant issues, without compromising our witness? Here are three ways I’d suggest we can wisely engage in the upcoming election cycle without losing perspective on what matters more than who wins or loses.
1. Turn some things off.
We are more informed than we’ve ever been, and that’s, generally speaking, a good thing. And yet it would be hard to argue that the way news is delivered to us – both in its tone (shrill) and in its doses (large) – has had a net positive effect on American voters. Thanks to the 24/7 availability of cable news companies competing with each other for market share (not to mention news websites and social media streams vying for clicks), we are drowning in the minutiae of daily politicking to the point where political awareness now borders on Enquirer-level tabloid obsession.
It’s not good to be uninformed, of course. But I’m convinced using political news as the sight-and-sound wallpaper of our daily lives isn’t healthy for our emotional disposition or our sense of perspective. What you regularly feed on will shape you, for good or bad. Consider the positive effects on your internal peace and external gentleness of watching some news only in the mornings and evenings, reading more print journalism (which is less given to the expediency of soundbites) than online outlets, and in general turning down the amount of “yelling” you are exposed to in your political coverage.
And maybe you don’t need push notifications from your favorite political watchdogs. Be intentional, not passive about the news you consume.
2. Remember your political opposites are sacred image-bearers of God.
I cringe every time I see a friend or family member share some derogatory or dehumanizing comment or meme about politicians they don’t like. Sadly, objectifying our opponents has frequently been the way American political debate works, simply because it’s the way the world works. But Christians are not to act and look like the world. The stakes in our political rivalries may be high, but they are not so high that we must abandon the biblical truths that our real war is not waged against flesh and blood. They are not so high that we must deny the dignity of our political opponents, harping on their mistakes and flubs, scorning them with the hatred none of us owes to fellow human beings made in the image of God.
There are certainly issues in the political realm that should cause us a righteous kind of anger and a zeal for the truth – issues especially related to injustice and corruption – but in our anger, we must not sin. Christ calls us to love our enemies, which may involve rebuking, but must never involve reviling. I’ve seen both Democrats and Republicans on social media refer to the other as “human scum” or “garbage.” This is language unbecoming of those who claim the name of Christ.
3. Take your cues from your Christ, not your candidates.
Our favorite politicians don’t often help us with the work of reflecting God’s glory in the political process. So much of the election cycle is built around fearmongering, vilifying, and grandstanding. In other words, many times the leading candidates of our preferred parties do not reflect the way of Jesus in their work. And when we wrap up our hopes and fears with their polling or performance, we don’t either.
Let us all remember that our hope is not ultimately who is in the White House but who is on the throne of heaven. The former is certainly important, and we ought to bring all of our Christian convictions to bear in helping us navigate the relevant issues well and vote confidently for the right candidates. But who is winning or losing should never rule our hearts. That privilege is owed only and entirely to Jesus Christ.
It is Christ’s obedient and gentle demeanor which should become ours, not the proud and cantankerous demeanor of our candidates. It is Christ’s Spirit that should produce fruit in us, not the spirit of the world so abundant in the American political system.
With these guidelines in mind, then, we can emerge on the other side of the election next year with our witness intact. Our guy or gal may not be in the Oval Office, but whatever the result, we don’t need to trade our peace (or our confession) for a result which, compared to eternity, is surely so fleeting and transitory.