Now that the election cycle is in full swing and will increasingly dominate our news feeds for the rest of the year, Blog Contributor Jerome Daley shares his thoughts about how we might engage the political conversation as representatives of Christ. His invitation is for us to learn the fine art of loving even if our views about government are diametrically opposed.
By Jerome Daley, Blog Contributor
Politics…what am I thinking? Political posts are the kiss of death!
I have lost Facebook friends over posts I didn’t even know were political but were perceived as such. Seriously, it feels to me like there is nothing more polarizing in our modern culture than the political scene. And as far as I can tell, Christians are little different at this point…yet I think we should be. Profoundly different.
I’m not pretending that I don’t have strong political views (although I will not be talking about them). And sometimes it’s hard for me to appreciate folks—Christians especially—who take the other side. But I’m reaching for a way to talk about how we engage the political conversation as representatives of Christ…especially now that the election is in full swing and will increasingly dominate the news cycles for the rest of the year.
Some months ago Jason mentioned an ESPN program on college football rivalries: how the most bitter rivalries are those where schools are geographically close and the demographics almost identical. In other words, among those who are most similar and have every reason to think alike, the strongest alienations arise. Fans apply war paint and prepare to do battle against their foes. I suspect that you, like me, have seen this escalate from friendly competition to something approaching rage.
Such tribal violence troubles me, whether athletic or political. Why must politics go nuclear? How has political party become “he who must not be named”? And how is it that we can shrug off the biblical command to “love one another,” and even to “love our enemies,” and instead war against our brothers and sisters—at least internally—if we find them on the other side of the political aisle? To borrow from the apostle James, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
There must be another way! But honestly, what would it take to get there?
I don’t fully know…but I’d like to offer some thoughts that I’ve been chewing on for the last year. Not unlike the conversation on race, I think it would serve us well as the Body of Christ if we could take baby steps to listen with new openness of heart…and speak with new gentleness of spirit.
See what you think of these ideas:
Reject Over-Identification with a Political Party
The psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 121). Our help doesn’t come from the political left or the political right; our hope for national reconciliation and redemption does not rest in Washington! Which is a relief, right?
Jesus modeled this priority by avoiding the political trap about paying taxes to Caesar—redirecting people’s attention to divine authority rather than human authority (Luke 20)—and steadfastly avoiding the political agenda of the Zealots who worked to overthrow Roman rule.
Instead, Jesus identified his mission only with doing the will of the Father (John 6:38)—a heavenly agenda, not an earthly one. To be fair, Jesus challenged political leaders, threatened their power structure, and ultimately died a political death. But he never confused God’s kingdom with human kingdoms.
I don’t think this means we should boycott the political process, but maybe it means we should be wary of the kind of tribalism that aligns identity and loyalty around political power. No political party can ever represent the Kingdom of God; we can’t expect that, and when we do, we inevitably wind up justifying bad behavior.
Movements, both political and religious, generally grow from the seed of a beautiful ideal…yet tend to succumb to the pressures of institutionalism over time. Once that happens, they may still champion an ideal but are predictably subject to unwieldy power differentials. No institution, not even the church, is worthy of unqualified trust—only God.
Be Wise to the Pitfalls of Power
I’m often reminded of the well-known perspective from Lord Acton, a British historian: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Acton observed that a person's sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. If this is true, and history would argue in its favor, it’s wise to carry a healthy skepticism when it comes to the rhetoric and agendas of those wielding power in our country and in the world. We need to recognize the corrosive tendencies that power cover over those who hold it.
But this is tricky because it’s also easy to become jaded and cynical. So we’re torn by forces on both sides: on one end, the political system tried to seduce us into becoming true “believers” in their story, and on the other end, we’re tempted to bitterness and disillusionment once we get disappointed.
This reminds me of Jesus’ advice, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). What does this mean for the election? I think it means that we care and we vote. We champion the issues that matter to us. But we also don’t buy in too far or expect too much.