I find the world of politics a confusing one. Although so many seem so sure about so much politically, that’s not the case for me. Our political environment, from where I stand, seems so badly distorted by political agendas, by adversarial thinking, and by constant spinning that it’s hard to know what’s what. It’s like taking a jog through a hall of mirrors. Nor do I trust the hyper-confident talking heads whose black and white views reflect little of the nuance and shading of real life people and situations.
So, in this discussion, I’ll leave the political analysis to those more learned than me and focus, instead on the spiritual wisdom that I believe ought to guide our political responses regardless of which party or affiliation we choose.
How can I approach politics wisely?
· I approach politics wisely when I seek truth regardless of where it leads
Jesus said, in John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Is my main goal to understand the truth, wherever that leads, or is it to support my party or my candidate? There’s a world of difference between these approaches. The first approach models honesty and integrity. We see it in our Lord Jesus, who was not afraid to challenge the establishment and even his own followers whenever truth required it. The second approach, however, is essentially dishonest. We skew the picture by choosing our facts selectively, focusing mostly on those which support our cause while ignoring or playing down those which are negative to our position. In other words, instead of being light-bearers, we become pawns of the system. The next observation is similar:
· I approach politics wisely when I seek to be impartial and fair
James 3:17 says that the wisdom that comes from heaven is impartial. 1 Peter 1:17 tells us that God judges each man’s work “impartially”. To be impartial means that I treat everyone the same. It means that my candidate and my party receive the same careful, objective evaluation that the opposing party receives. If my candidate falls short in some way, I admit it openly. If the opposing candidate says or does something right and good, I also admit that openly. I don’t exaggerate my candidate’s qualifications while minimizing those of the opponent. I’m fair where assessing blame. This, of course, is not what either party tends to do, so if I choose to be impartial, I’ll probably be perceived as disloyal. So was Jesus.
· I approach politics wisely when I’m guided by God’s love
The apostle Paul famously said that if I lack love “I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2) Jesus told us to love even our enemies (Luke 6:27). Our approach to politics is meant to be guided by God’s love. Now, I’m not suggesting that God’s love takes all of the fervor out of politics. We can still hold strong views and be passionate about them. Jesus certainly did. We can still challenge one another – that’s the glory of our democratic system. But God’s love is meant to govern the way we do politics. For one thing, we genuinely care about all the participants, even those in the opposing party. Their welfare and their concerns matter to us. We refuse to indulge in toxic attitudes toward them such as hatred, snottiness, or jealousy. We reject an adversarial, divisive attitude and aim at reconciliation and cooperation whenever possible. And, as mentioned earlier, our love pushes us to be honest and fair; to play hard but to play clean.
· I approach politics wisely when I’m careful who I listen to
Our ability to be godly and wise politically is either aided or hindered by those who have captured our ears. Proverbs 13:20 says: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Avoid listening to those who are unnecessarily negative, biased and manipulative. They may make you feel good about your views, but that good feeling comes at a cost. Find sources that are thoughtful, even-handed, and at least reasonably charitable. Take time to listen to thoughtful people on the other side as well. You may be surprised to find that they don’t fit the negative stereotypes so quickly offered up. They also can be intelligent, caring people seeking to do what they think is best. This leads to the next point:
· I approach politics wisely when I learn how to interact civilly with others about it
I’ve been implying this all along. A critical part of being politically wise involves how we dialogue with others. Proverbs 18:13, for instance, says: “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” Learn to listen to others; even those you disagree with. Ask questions. Summarize what they’re saying to see if you’ve gotten it right. Be willing to concede when they make a valid point or raise a valid issue. Give them the benefit of doubt when it comes to their motivations. Be teachable. When you do disagree, do it in as relaxed and charitable manner as possible. While this may not allow you to dominate as many arguments, it makes it possible for real dialogue to take place and leaves the door open for constructive future interactions (it’s a good testimony for Christ as well).
· I approach politics wisely when I put allegiance to God ahead of political allegiances
There were political parties in Jesus’ day too – the Saducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Essenes. Jesus interacted with them, but He also maintained a healthy independence. In fact, He associated all of them, to some degree, with one overall political party He called “the world”. Of this party, Jesus remained deeply suspicious, saying things like: John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”
Regardless of how often they invoke God and Christianity, remember that our political parties are not primarily driven by their desire to please God. They’re more driven by loyalties like power, money, cronyism, ideology, popularity, and so on (all of us, by the way, even Christians, wrestle with misplaced loyalties). As believers, God’s agenda is meant to come first. If our political leaders or party violate God’s values then we need to part company with them, at least on that issue. This leads to my last point, aimed more at those of my own political persuasion.
· I approach politics wisely when I don’t confuse conservative politics with conservative theology
Although conservative Christians tend toward conservative politics, conservatism is not primarily about religion. It’s a political philosophy – quite a bit of which is theologically neutral (is God really committed to “small government”?). And there are godly Christians who are politically liberal. Where conservatism intersects with Christianity, support it, but don’t conflate the two. They’re not identical.
We are blessed to live in a democracy, a land where we have a say in how things are run. By all means, let’s jump in and participate. But although spattered by the stinking froth of so much political meanness and manipulation, let’s rise to a higher plane; speaking thoughtful words irradiated with God’s wisdom and love.