Thursday, November 1, 2012

Things I Won't Miss After the Election

Probably should have written this months ago. Such is life!

Every presidential election matters. As American citizens, we have both the privilege and responsibility to express our views via the ballot box. In this political process, we have the privilege of disagreeing with one another. Depending on our individual world views, these differences can be significant!

What bothers me most about our disagreements – and what I will absolutely not miss after the election – is how we disagree. Too many of our disagreements include name calling, ad-hominem attacks, statements taken out of contest, sound-bite statements against our opponents, propagating statements without checking the truth of those statements, propagating those same statements even after discovering the truth, blitzing the social media with all kinds of “noise”, and so on. It happens with the candidates themselves (see, “Debates, any of them”) on down to the man in the street.

It bothers me most when Christians do the same thing. We should be different in our approach. We forget (apparently), or choose to ignore, that “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44) and “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21) applies even to our political “enemies”. I've seen too much of the opposite, where we act just like the world in the way we attack the other side (whether attacking from a Republican, Democratic, or Independent perspective).

Dean Merrill wrote in his book Sinners in the hands of an Angry Church: “You cannot shout people into holiness. It just does not work.” The same applies to political views – you (and I) cannot shout people into changing their views.

Some will (and some already have) incorrectly conclude from my comments that I think Christians ought to be passive, or that my theology doesn't allow thinking correctly about political issues. Both views are wrong. Should we be frustrated, even angry, at some of the actions and platforms that candidates hold (whether in office or running for office)? Absolutely! Should we try to influence the political process? Absolutely. Should we try to hold wrong-doers accountable? Again, absolutely. Should we be bold? Yes! Should we speak our convictions? Yes!

But I do think we need to check how we respond. Whether I like a particular incumbent is immaterial. If the incumbent has not personally earned my respect (in my oh-so-humble opinion), the office has (or should). The Bible commands us to pray for our leaders, not just the leaders we like (1 Tim. 2:1-3), a command Paul wrote while Nero “served” as emperor. Peter wrote, also during Nero’s reign, to “honor the King” (1 Pet. 2:17), even though Nero was in no way a godly or moral man.

So, what should we do if we disagree?

  • Pray. A lot.
  •  Fact check before passing on “facts”.
  • Check context before passing on quotes. Don’t pass on quotes taken out of context.
  • Choose not to pass on anything whose primary purpose is to inflame.
  • Don’t rationalize our actions with words like “I’m mad”, or “They’re an idiot”. Both might be true, but that shouldn't drive how we act (if you’re married, does the “I’m mad” or “you’re an idiot” approach work with your spouse? Thought not!)
  • Address specific issues with facts to support your thoughts.
  •  Use social media wisely – don’t bury people with “stuff”.
  • If you are a believer, remember your demeanor should reflect Jesus. (I can hear now, though, the argument, “Jesus was pretty harsh with the money changers, so I’m okay.” The problem with this comparison is that Jesus’ harshest words were towards the religious leaders of the day for leading their people down the wrong path, not towards the political leaders or for political issues).
  • Listen to the viewpoints of our opponent. We don’t have to agree, but we can be courteous. We might even learn something! I asked an Obama-supporter why she supported him. But, I preceded the request by telling her I simply wanted to learn; that I would not use her words against her. I think she replied because I treated her with respect, even though we disagree.
  • Don’t resort to name-calling. The gap is huge between “This is a lie" (or appears to be a lie)” and “He is a liar”.
  • Finally, ask yourself – is this how I want to be treated?

I suspect I’ll get shot at by some. Again. But I want Christians to think on a higher plain. Jesus’ kingdom purposes should trump my political views. Representing Jesus should direct how I respond, not my flesh (Did you know Paul included “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, and dissensions” in his list of “the deeds of the flesh”, Gal. 5:20?). Remember we serve as an ambassador of our real home (1 Cor. 5:20, Phil. 3:20) therefore, represent that kingdom well as we work in this kingdom.

For me, this is the test: Based on reading my Facebook posts, reading my blogs, hearing my discussions with others, and watching me in the public arena, would an outside observer say, “He spoke the truth in love”? Or would he say something else? I hope the first is true.

Stand firm; raise issues; address error. But do it in love. How we dissent is at least as important as that we dissent. And if you do it in love, you’ll confound your foes – they won’t know how to respond (Rom. 12:20). J

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