I have said very little this election season unlike the last two presidential elections. Mainstream as well as social media have already been inundated with toxic posts that seem more like personal attacks than arguments about the issues. Comments on many of these posts are similarly nasty as supporters of the various candidates are attacked or dismissed while facts about the issues are ignored. Perhaps what frustrates me most (as a Christian) is how the Bible or a self-granted sense of spiritual discernment has been used to denounce one candidate or the other, or to elevate one issue above another, declaring through their posts that everybody else is wrong. Up to now I have not wanted to wade into this muck. But now, partly because I think through things better as I write about them and partly with a hope of helping others think through all of this too, I have been drawn back to my laptop in an attempt to make sense of, and find direction in, this election.
Let me first say that I assume the best of people, both the candidates and their supporters. My baseline belief is that all of the candidates are running because of their sense of duty and service and want the best for the United States, though what that best is, is viewed differently and how to get there has many different paths. I have the same hope for the supporters of the candidates and issues: that they want what is best for the United States but just differ in what that best is and how to get there.
The problem with this election season, more than others that I remember, is how mean people have been toward each other. This can be seen from the top of the tickets down to the grassroots supporters. People seem to be taking this election very personally and are fighting back in hurtful ways which just increases the political divide in our nation, and for me, is also ruining the reputations of those involved. I recently commented on Facebook that based on some posts people (even pastors) are making, I would not want to attend their churches, which is sad. My understanding of Scripture and the Christlike life teaches me that what we say and do should draw people to Christ and His Church, not repel people because of our Facebook posts. Obviously, we are to speak the truth, but the Bible says we are to speak the truth in love.
Second, it is important to remember that while our faith should influence and speak into our political discussions and decisions, they are not the same. Our government system is not the Church and we are not electing religious leaders. With that said I would quickly add that I believe it comes out in Scripture that being a good Christian means being a good citizen which means being involved in the political process by supporting issues and candidates and especially voting (and maybe even running for office). There are many posts out there that suggest that since we are citizens of Heaven and not of this world that we shouldn’t even be involved in the politics of this world, that our concern should not be in the temporal, earthly governments. That is a lofty thought but not practical or biblical. Being concerned about our government and the political process is not a denial of the sovereignty of God or our faith in His will. To work toward positive political ends does not deny or stifle the work of God, but is doing our part in accomplishing God’s plan, as much as it can be discerned and accomplished on earth.
Yes, as Christians, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, but while the Kingdom is here, it is also not yet. We still are born, live and die in this world and as such have a dual citizenship, both of which we are responsible to. Our primary allegiance must be to the Kingdom of God, but a secondary allegiance to our country -properly practiced- is not a denial of our faith but an outgrowth of it. We should not neglect the governmental processes because they are “dirty” but should be a part of them, bringing into them the salt and light that Christians bring. I won’t belabor that point in this post, but you can read more about my thoughts on it here.
Related to my second point, thirdly, we need to remember that as the government is not the Church, we shouldn’t expect it to believe or act like the Church or even on behalf of it, or to hold the same values as the Church. I’ve read many posts in support of various issues that seem to be delegating to the government many of the responsibilities of Christians and the Church or holding the government to a standard that Christians are held to, but we need to be careful with our expectations. An example of a current political hot topic where this has produced conflict is in the area of immigration, particularly with the enormous amount of refugees as a result of the unrest in the Middle East. The Bible is clear that Christians are to welcome the foreigner and care for the stranger and homeless but the government is not “a Christian” and has other responsibilities to consider. The United States has been known for their care of the underprivileged around the world. USAID, for example, has a multi-billion dollar budget to care for those in need, but one of the primary responsibilities of government is to protect its citizens which introduces a plethora of other issues beyond just being compassionate to immigrants. It impacts background checks, open borders, potential terrorists embedded with Middle Eastern refugees, defense spending, military operations, and care for our own homeless and underprivileged.
When supporters of tighter immigration laws confront those wanting them less restrictive, there are often heated comments like, “to not freely accept all immigrants without question is denying our Christian faith,” but they forget that the government is not a Christian. Few Christians would deny their responsibility to care for the foreigner or stranger, but how that is accomplished is often different. We need to remember that we are on the same team and instead of fighting about how our ultimate goals are accomplished, we need to work together to accomplish those goals and not assume that because we may differ on how things are accomplished that we automatically differ on the ultimate goal-in this example to care for immigrants and refugees.
However, even though we should not expect the government to believe and act like a Christian, it is proper and part of the Christians responsibility to be salt and light in our world, to use all legal means to reduce the moral decline in our country. Supporting laws and judicial decisions that maintain or return a high moral standard is a preservative for our society that Christians (and others) should pursue. Using legal means to promote moral behavior is not denying God’s ability to accomplish change or his sovereignty. Scripture teaches that we are to be active in our world, in doing good and promoting good. “Legislating morality” isn’t about forcing our beliefs on others but rather preserving our culture and improving our society for the benefit of all of its members. Now, discerning the universal values that should be legislated is the difficult aspect of this idea, which, unfortunately, is outside of the scope of this particular post.
In my next post, “And the Best Candidate is…” I’ll look more at the individual candidates and hash out how I’ll decide who to vote for.
Photo of the candidates from The Indian Express