By Jeff Harris
The 2016 presidential election is still a year away and I am already tired of it. Maybe I’m too cynical, but the 24-hour news cycle has a way of bringing out the worst in us. Our dumbed-down, shortsighted, sound bite-infused, bifurcated political conversation (or the lack thereof) can nearly send one into depression; or make you want to temporarily move to Britain where the 2015 general election lasted only 38 days, or to Canada where our northern neighbors elected a prime minister in 78 days.
But we think bigger is better, so our presidential campaigns last close to two years and cost an enormous amount of money — the 2012 general election cost $7 billion. It’s enough to make you want to pull out your hair.
Since we are now in the midst of this silly season, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions for Christian voters:
1. Thou shalt not lie. I realize that it’s tempting to forward political emails or to say things about political candidates because you wish they were true, but just because you wish they were true doesn’t mean that they actually are. Christians should not be in the “truthiness” business. Do your homework. When something seems unbelievable, it usually is. Don’t believe everything you hear or read just because you wish it were true. Slander is not a virtue. And voting is not simply a right; it’s a responsibility. So act as if you are responsible for the things you say and do — because you are!
2. Don’t argue politics on social media. How many times have you changed your mind about a political issue (or a religious one for that matter) because someone convinced you on social media that your view was wrong? You’ve probably done that as much as I have, which is never. Social media offers an opportunity for constructive dialogue but that rarely happens. Don’t get sucked into the drama. As the adage goes, “Never argue with an idiot; onlookers may be unable to tell which one of you is the idiot.”
3. The political process is not the way to advance the Kingdom. Christians should be involved in the political process, and they should vote their conscience just like everyone else. Christians should also work for legislation that is good and just, especially for the poor. But it is neither wise nor possible to force Christian beliefs or practices upon people through the political process. The best way to further the Kingdom is for Christians to daily engage in the practices of generosity, compassion, honesty, faithfulness, forgiveness, self-control, mercy and love. These ways of living are especially effective when we extend them to people who don’t look like us, or talk like us, or act like us.
4. Our allegiance is to Christ. I knew a man who was a Baptist and a Democrat. He married a woman who was a Methodist and a Republican. He was smart enough to understand that marriage requires compromise. And so he told her, “I don’t care which church we go to, but there ain’t no way I’m voting Republican.” Moving to a different Christian denomination doesn’t necessarily mean that your political convictions are more important than your religious ones, but for too many people they are. Many Christians are shaped more by partisan politics than by the gospel. There are good and faithful Christians who vote Republican, Democratic and everything in between, but woe unto those who would equate the Kingdom with any political party. Our allegiance is to the Lamb, not donkeys or elephants.
5. Jesus could never be elected president. Have you actually read the Gospels? Do you really think that someone who talks and lives like Jesus could be elected president? Love your neighbor as yourself? Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Pray for those who persecute you? Sell everything you have and give it to the poor? You cannot serve both God and money? Don’t worry about your life? Really? You think this guy could be elected president? Chances are, Jesus couldn’t win a straw poll in a local Baptist church, much less be president.
The only election Jesus ever won landed him on a cross.
And therein lies the problem. The God revealed in Jesus does not redeem the world in the same way we do. In the inverted world of the Kingdom, you find your life by losing it. Power is made perfect in weakness. The last are first and the first are last. The exalted are humbled and the humbled are exalted. The powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up. The hungry are filled with good things, and the rich are sent away empty.
This is the Kingdom to which we belong, and it is the ultimate hope for the world.
Now this doesn’t mean that Christians should not be involved in politics, but it does mean that we must be careful to not lose our souls in the process. As we head toward Nov. 8, 2016, we’d do well to remember this prayer from Stanley Hauerwas: “Sovereign Lord, foolish we are, believing that we can rule ourselves by selecting this or that person to rule over us. We are at it again. Help us not to think it more significant than it is, but also give us and those we elect enough wisdom to acknowledge our follies. Help us laugh at ourselves, for without humor our politics cannot be humane. We desire to dominate and thus are dominated. Free us, dear Lord, for otherwise we perish. AMEN.”