Have you noticed some of your Facebook friends taking a sabbatical from social media during the remainder of the 2012 election cycle? The number seems to be growing. For the most part, they do so because they’re tired of the strident tone of contemporary politics, fear getting caught up in the game of partisanship, or feel their more restrained approach no longer has a place in the country’s political landscape.
I suspect they speak for quite a number of persons, and I respect their decision to step back. Nonetheless, I think we can act like Christ followers, even as we participate in political life. If we want to honor Christ while taking an active role in American politics, I suggest we practice the following guidelines.
Choose to love the opposition, even if the opposition does not love you. Love, for the Christian, is not a feeling but a commitment to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. In the world of American politics this requires us to treat others with respect, listen at least as much as we speak, try to understand why the “other side” holds a given position, and insist all of us be treated as full-fledged citizens regardless of an election’s outcome.
Embrace humility. A friend once asked me to name one typical experience of the Christian life. “Repentance,” I replied. Christ followers accept that they make mistakes in all life’s arenas, including politics. When we discover we’ve fallen into error, we repent, that is change our minds or actions and strike off in what we believe to be a more nearly Christ-honoring direction. This requires humility, which for most of us is an acquired skill! As we engage in politics, let’s choose to practice humility with regard to our views on taxes, foreign policy, budgets, immigration, and other issues.
Do real homework. Go to the primary sources as often as possible. For example, if you are concerned about health insurance reform, you can find and skim through the relevant legislation on line, rather than allow someone else to read and interpret the document for you. The bottom line is that Christ followers seek to base their decisions on knowledge rather than second-hand reports. If you cannot research all the claims made by candidates, make use of reputable “fact checker” resources. Consult several, compare what they say, and you will take another step toward becoming well informed.
Speak and write with care. Very little in our mass media driven culture encourages self-restraint. Cable television and radio political pundits tend to model the opposite approach. Instant response, rudeness, inflammatory terms and rhetoric, and the like rule the airways (and generate ratings and revenue!). We need to offer an alternative approach, one in which we choose our words with care, so as to bring honor to Christ through encouraging genuine conversation and community building actions.
Resist idolatry. Over dinner one night long ago, an acquaintance sighed and said, “You know, Mike, my life would be so much easier if politics could really substitute for God.” We went on to talk about what he meant. Politics, left unchecked, defines our friendships, economic philosophy, attitude toward various social classes, take on world events and sense of place. All politics asks in return is that we bow down and worship it. Followers of Jesus, who rejected just such temptation in the wilderness, know better. The trick is to discern and resist the temptation at all times, even the high seasons of political passion that engulf America every four years.
Pray. I find The Lord’s Prayer becoming more and more important to me, the longer I live in the world as it is. The prayer directs our attention to God, leads us to yearn for God’s kind of community, fosters contentment with having enough of life’s necessities, connects receiving and giving forgiveness, and encourages humility. The more such prayer shapes us, the better equipped we become to follow Jesus in a politicized world.