In the back of my planner is a list. I started it earlier this year when I began seriously considering the idea of joining the blogosphere. It’s where I jot down ideas, topics, phrases, and other tidbits which could potentially be worked into blog posts. One thing decidedly not on that list: politics.
Though I follow politics with great interest, the conversations around this subject are so fraught with tension, my conflict-avoiding heart studiously avoids engaging in them with anyone outside my close circle.
But more and more I find myself troubled over the state of our political discourse, and over the ways people I know and love, people who share my faith and values, talk about political issues, both online and off. It has caused me much sorrow, and has driven me repeatedly to my knees.
As things heat up ahead of the midterm elections on November 6, I find I am compelled to write about the things on my heart. I pray this is received in the spirit I intend: not to shame or scold, but to encourage and empower.
My thoughts on this subject are so numerous, and so wide ranging, it took me awhile to organize them. (I held this post for a week, because my first draft was seriously all over the place.) Yesterday I prayed for clarity, and I believe God helped me zoom out and see the bigger picture.
This is where I’ve landed: in political discussions and decisions, the question I need to ask myself is simple: how do I, as a Christian and an American citizen, engage in our political system in a way that honors God and respects my fellow humans?
Because at the end of the day, loving God and loving my neighbor is my ultimate mandate as a follower of Christ. (Matthew 22:36 – 40)
Before I can engage in an earthly political system, I must first remember who I am, and what I’m called to do.
Who I Am
I am a Christian. This means I am a citizen of a heavenly kingdom.
I am not an American Christian. I am a Christian who happens to be American.
This is an important distinction, because if I put my national or cultural identity above my identity as a Christ-follower, I can very easily fall into the same trap the disciples did before Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were looking for a Messiah to come and establish an earthly kingdom. But that wasn’t what Jesus was about. He isn’t interested in setting up a Christian government here on earth. His kingdom is not bound by the constraints of land or sea, of oxygen or gravity. He operates on a plane separate from this one we experience. Keeping that in mind, my perspective gains some distance. where I can view things more clearly.
With this perspective, I can acknowledge that expecting any one political party to fully represent my values is unrealistic. I gain the freedom to examine issues and candidates individually, based on their own merits, their own requirements, their own area of purview. I can disagree with a political party position on certain issues, but still vote for a politician from that party for a local office, because I see her as being the best candidate for the job. I don’t have to feel obligated to stand by a politician who behaves in ways that are reprehensible or contrary to my values, just because of the letter after his name. I can prayerfully consider my stance on each issue, each candidate, and each election, without feeling stuck in one camp or the other.
What I’m called to do
I said it earlier: my mandate is to love God, and love my neighbor. When I focus on loving God, I remember how huge, and awesome, and powerful He is. I remember how small I am, and how small, in reality, this country is, in comparison to the Creator of the universe and His vast, immeasurable kingdom. I remember that God will do His work, no matter what. As a citizen of Heaven, I am released from the responsibility to fight at all costs to ensure my liberty here on Earth, remembering that the freedom I have in Christ is not dependent on my freedom as an American.
I know that saying such a thing is tantamount to American-blasphemy. So let me be clear: I love this country! I am so thankful to be an American. I love our history and honor and respect all those who gave their very lives so I could have all the opportunities and privileges I enjoy simply because I was born here. At the same time, I can also acknowledge that while I greatly appreciate the liberty I have to worship, gather, and write in the name of Jesus, He does not need me to be “free” on this earth in order for His kingdom to flourish. On the contrary, historically the church has grown and thrived in highly unfavorable, even hostile political climates.
Therefore, while I do think that we should exercise the rights with which we have been entrusted, and seek to protect the freedoms we enjoy today, I do not think such protections should take precedence over the second part of our mandate: to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
There are as many different ideas about what it means to love my neighbor as there are Christians on the planet, but I’ll tell you where the Lord has been dealing with me these past few years.
Can I truly say I love my neighbor if I refuse to listen when they tell me about their life experiences which are different than my own, and make me uncomfortable? If I stay locked in my bubble, with people who look like me and think like me and just echo my opinions back to me, louder and more forcefully? If I insist on assuming that ideas from the “other side” are all insane and designed to destroy America, instead of acknowledging that other people have well-thought-out ideas and opinions, even if I ultimately disagree with them?
Is it loving to lump people into categories and slap a label on them that makes it easy for me to dismiss them, instead of remembering that every Republican, Democrat, political candidate, citizen, immigrant, child, minority, official, pundit, and journalist is a human soul that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save? Can I say I love people when I use those labels casually in conversation, without considering that my brother or sister in Christ might identify with one of those groups and be hurt by my careless comment? What kind of message do I send to my daughter if she hears me disparaging a politician I don’t like when he or she makes a mistake, or dismissing the claims of woman who has brought up an allegation of abuse because it happens to be against a politician I support?
If I truly love my neighbor as much as I love myself, I can not prioritize my own rights at his or her expense.
If I truly love my neighbor as much as I love myself, it should impact the way I vote, the way I speak, the way I interact with my family, friends, church family, and strangers on the internet with whom I disagree. It should flow into the way I live my life, the actions I take, the ideas I support, and the causes I help finance.
With all of that in mind, as we head toward election day, just over a week away, I’m committing to:
- Research the candidates, state questions, and other issues on my ballot, using multiple credible sources, instead of basing my decision on intentionally misleading ads or choosing to vote “straight ticket” for a particular political party.
- Look into the other side of an issue that might seem obvious to me on the surface, because I believe other people have well-thought-out reasons for their stance, even if I disagree.
- Evaluate candidates based on how qualified they are for the job they’re running to fill, instead of where they or their party stand on hot-button issues that won’t be within the purview of the office they seek to hold.
- Acknowledge that there are millions of Americans whose experience of living in the United States is vastly different than mine, and intentionally seek out their perspectives so I can make informed decisions at the voting booth.
- Use a loving and civil tone in my conversations, both online and off, whether I agree with someone or not, remembering that my ultimate allegiance isn’t to an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one, and that my words and actions about issues here on earth impact my ability to speak to people about issues far more vital.
I will proudly exercise my rights as an American citizen, while remembering that my ultimate responsibility is to my King. I’d love for you to join me.