If you want to start an argument during this political season, post something about Trump or Hillary on Facebook.
Everyone seems to be weighing in. Sometimes thoughtfully and respectfully, sometimes… not so much.
The bible has plenty to say about politics, but it’s often in the context of stories, which can be hard to apply with confidence to our own context. And with many committed Christians disagreeing sharply with each other, figuring out where we stand can be downright confusing.
I’m not (at all) an expert on these areas, but here are 10 things I think we can know. (I’d love to hear your thoughts, reactions and additions in the comments below.)
- The character and competence of our leaders matter. Character is the necessary foundation (see, for example, the biblical requirements for an elder or deacon in 1 Timothy 3), but it’s not enough, either. For example, most people agree that Jimmy Carter had a ton of integrity, but he was probably in over his head when it came to the practical demands of the job. On the other hand, a leader may be skillful politically, but have questionable character. While a leader may make good political decisions, his moral flaws can erode trust and create doubt in ways that are subtle yet real.
- As Christians, we should think the best of our leaders, but be honest and realistic, too. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that ‘love never loses faith, is always hopeful’ (v.7). So we should give candidates the benefit of the doubt wherever we can. But – like us – they are sinners, too, and they will inevitably disappoint us the more closely we examine their lives.
- We need to think deeply about the candidates and their platforms. In our noisy, broken world, everything is not as it seems. Intentionally or not, slogans, rhetoric and ‘the facts’ may or may not be true. Because God is truth, Christians are called to be people of truth, so we should thinking through what’s coming at us. For example, Donald Trump promises to ‘Make America Great Again’, but as Lecrae pointed out in his recent performance at the BET Awards, America certainly hasn’t been great for many people of color.
- The tone of our political conversations matters (a lot). Judging by my Facebook feed, it’s almost like some people (Christians included) think we don’t have to apply God’s normal standards for speech when it comes to politicians or their policies. (I’ve done it, too.) There’s a time for strong talk, but it needs to be tempered: ‘let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person’ (Colossians 4:16).
- Let’s avoid the extremes. On the one hand, it’s easy to put too much hope in the government, nearly expecting them to deliver heaven-on-earth. But God reminds us to ‘put no trust in princes… in whom there is no salvation’ (Psalm 146:3). On the other hand, it’s tempting to become cynical and completely disengage. Yet biblical figures like Esther, Daniel and Nehemiah served their secular leaders with excellence and were used by God to accomplish his purposes.
- It’s (really) okay for Christians to disagree. Sometimes, well-meaning Christians come down on different sides of the fence over an issue. Other times, they may ultimately agree but so focus on certain issues that it merely appears that way. The Apostle Paul’s remarks to the Romans over disagreements about food are relevant to political discussions for our day: ‘Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls’ (Romans 14:4).
- The gospel gives us all the resources we need to get along. In Paul’s day, churches were struggling to incorporate Gentiles (non-Jews) into their midst. Their squabbles make our worst church splits look like nothing. Paul reminded these warring factions that Jesus ‘himself is our peace… reconcil[ing] us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility’ (Ephesians 2:14, 16). God’s act of reconciling us to himself through the cross means we have everything we need to love and respect each other, even when we can’t agree.
- We should pray for our leaders. ‘First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I almost never pray for our officials. And yet, I’m happy to complain about them. But they need our prayers, and, it benefits us, too.
- Do something. I wonder if one practical application of The Golden Rule could be getting involved – in some way – in our political system. After all, if you were leading a broken system, you’d want their support and involvement, right? It’s not much, but I’ve written a few letters to my congresspeople about issues I care about and thanked them for their service.
- Remember that we’re waiting for a better kingdom. When Jesus – the King of Kings – returns, everything we’ve ever hoped for from our government (and far more) will be fulfilled. In the past, sometimes religious people have used this to muzzle righteous dissent and change. ‘Don’t rock the boat now… Jesus will make everything right in heaven some day’. But right after talking about Christ’s return with his readers, Peter calls them – right now – to ‘lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God’ (2 Peter 3:10-12, but also 3:1-14). We don’t have to choose between hope in heaven and the pursuit of progress here on earth.
- Where do you struggle to engage our political conversation with Christ’s grace and truth?
- What would you add to this list?