Hillary’s is in. Cruz is in. Rubio, Bush, and Walker are in. Heck, maybe even Chris Christie. The Presidential race for 2016 is in full force, and believe this, the list of contenders will get longer before it gets shorter. Add to that all the also-rans and has-beens vying for a place on the ticket or running for the nomination of some niche political party that couldn’t fill a phone booth if they all got together and were giving away free pie and you get a long national nightmare…again. Every four years Americans go to the polls to pull our levers or punch our cards or tap the touchscreen to exercise our beliefs about who we think should serve as our country’s Chief Executive.
It can be beautiful. For most of my adult life it’s been ugly.
And as my mother says, “God don’t like ugly.”
Before we vote in November 2016, far too many Christians will trade a lifetime of faithful, sacrificial Christian witness for a bowl of political porridge. Like a hungry Esau, we will exchange slight, momentary political victories for something of eternal value. We will forget that no one prays to the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.” Jacob got the birthright because Jacob knew what was valuable.
But when it come to politics, Christians forget what’s valuable. We trade our birthright!
The transaction is apparent and predictable. The candidate we support will say or do something mean-spirited or opposed to the Spirit of God, but either because of our animosity for the other side or because we are aligned on a particular issue or party, we will defend the ungodly. We will also take to Twitter and Facebook to Tweet, Retweet, or link some bitterly partisan, ungracious, half-truth about Democrats or Republicans.
We won’t take the 5-minutes required to investigate ad hominem attacks. If the daily bile spewed by politicians and our preferred news outlets makes the other side look bad or seems to confirm our suspicions, so be it. We will even attack the folks dedicated to fact-checking attacks, knowing that if we can discredit them, then we can continue our attacks and wear our blinders at the same time.
Worse, some of us will cheer, applaud, and celebrate the dehumanizing words, commercials, and messages about candidates. We will highlight all the ways “our candidate” represents the most crucial values while we minimize, relativize, and ignore, the myriad ways s/he deliberately distorts the message of Jesus. No worries, though, enough of our friends will be join us is our distortions and give us a sense of anonymity. We will cuddle ourselves in the soft illusion that if enough of us join in the degradation then it must somehow be okay.
Over the next two years, some of us may fall into the temptation of becoming defenders of deceivers. We will lie, repeat lies, believe lies, and tell ourselves that only “those people” are lying. We will do it because something happens to us when we touch politics that makes us forget that America, as wonderful as it can be, is not the kingdom of our first allegiance.
In recent years, the Christian community has sadly served as little more than a predictable, devote (and loud) voting bloc with a ferocious, angry bark. At present, the church’s unholy alliances in politics have made us a tool of the Right, an enemy of the Left, and prophetic to neither. For some time now, we have so desperately wanted a seat in the halls of power that we have abandoned the witness and testimony of the Christ.
What our friends are too kind to tell us is that our often tone-deaf, one-sided, ungracious, privilege protecting proclamations have long ago prompted them to “hide” our updates, reject our concerns, or tune out our voices altogether. When we become desirous for a particular person (Republican or Democrat) to sit in one chair for four years, we easily exchange a lifetime of good deeds and loving-kindness for the same bare-knuckled, fire-spitting, foaming-at-the-mouth, blind partisanship we see so often in Washington.
Hopefully, while it’s still 2015 and well before the 2016 election, the church can make course corrections and get out of the business of baptizing political agendas. Hopefully, Christians can look at the whole of scripture and the whole of life and tunnel ourselves out of a narrow view of flourishing which considers only two or three issues as paramount in God’s heart.
Hopefully, we can become a community which demands both political parties, not simply check the correct box on a couple of issues, but deal honestly with a pesky, prophetic church which calls the nation and world to reconciliation and love.
So, how do we honor our witness in a political year? Here are 5 quick tips:
- No Longer See Anyone From A Worldly Point of View: As believers, the Apostle Paul said this is core to who we are. When you see a nasty Facebook post, when you receive the mean-spirited e-mail about the “other” party, stand on the side of Paul. If a candidate proclaims Jesus is Lord (regardless of your worst suspicions of their Christianity), s/he is your sibling in Christ. Refer to them as such and insist that others do too. After all, if you are like me, you’re in no position to judge God’s servant. Non-believers are also made in the image of God. If you can’t see the image of God in them, this is your soul work, not theirs.
- Refuse To Be A Part of the Problem. Unless you believe there is not enough anger, resentment, bearing of false witness, and misinformation in the world, your participation in it will simply add stress to God’s creation. Jesus says the one without sin is free to cast the first stone. This teaching was not only about sin, but a way to view the world. Jesus is also teaching us that judgment, defamation, and their inevitable companion, violence, don’t solve problems. You actually can choose to remove yourself from the hostility-creation complex. Drop your stone and go about God’s work.
- Remember. It’s A Secret Ballot. One of the wonderful freedoms of this country is that you aren’t required to tell anyone who you voted for. Embrace that protection!
- Use The Same Measuring Stick. Jesus said that we will be judged by the same measure we judge others. What if you and I treated politics the same way? If we refuse to vote for one candidate because of their morals or moral position, we should measure all candidates by morals and moral positions. Does your candidate slander the image of God with their characterizations of their opponents? Are they mean-spirited? Are they quick to anger? Is their speech seasoned with grace? The scriptures see all these as moral issues. The mouth, Jesus says, speaks from the overflow of the heart. Morals don’t merely reside in voting history.
- Be Quick To Listen and Slow To Speak. As tempting as it is to believe that those whose politics differ from ours are always and eternally wrong, the truth is that they may actually have a point. While it’ simpler to believe half the country is either stupid or evil, that’s likely not the case. James, the brother of Jesus, gives us to tool we need; closed mouths and open ears. And perhaps, with more open ears, we might also experience more open hearts. We are not quick to listen so that we can have open minds, we are quick to listen so we can have open hearts.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
This is what you and I have to become between now and November 2016. There is no need to be naïve. There are no perfect candidates, but that’s partly the point. As we enter this election season, it is required of Christians to treasure our witness more than we venerate our party’s platform. Giving away something of value for something immediate rarely turns out well. Porridge is not worth your birthright.