“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:4)
Things that don’t mix well: oil and water, Coke and Mentos, drinking and driving, politics and religion. Upon his 98th birthday this week, I was reminded of the response of Billy Graham when asked what he would do differently as he reflected over the course of his ministry. He replied that among other things, he would have “steered clear of politics”. (Christianity Today interview, Jan. 21, 2011)
I cringe every time I hear a political dialogue initiated at my church, knowing that such conversations threaten unity and distract those who hold different views, often disrupting their spirit of worship. As a teacher, blogger, and user of social media, I have always tried to avoid political discussions and comments for those very reasons.
The divisive nature of the recent election has only reinforced my personal aversion to traveling down those roads. Nevertheless, after much soul-searching, I feel compelled to share a few concerns that are weighing heavily on my heart in the aftermath of the election this week.
Over the course of this long political season I have personally witnessed a number of insensitive and irreverent comments and jokes concerning the candidates voiced by fellow Christians, many of which occurred during church activities. Such remarks often offend those who hold different political views, making them feel uncomfortable at best and unwelcome in our congregations and small groups at worst.
In the interest of unity, I have held my tongue as the names of President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Mr. Trump have been uttered with disdainful and often disrespectful tones. I have been shocked and greatly disappointed by blatantly false, slanderous, and even racist political emails forwarded and social media posts shared by fellow church members, friends, and family throughout the course of this campaign. Such actions fly in the face of clear Biblical teaching to be respectful of those in authority and to slander no one. (1 Tim. 2:1-3, 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Peter 2:1, Eph. 4:31-32)
I must confess that I have been both surprised and disillusioned by such widespread and often enthusiastic support among so many evangelicals for a candidate whose actions and words appear so antithetical to the Biblical values of humility, grace, and forgiveness which we espouse. When cloaked in the mantle of Christian faith, I fear that such actions undermine our moral authority and credibility as the witnesses we are called to be. It is regrettable that to the public at large, the term “evangelical” now often conveys a political overtone rather than a Great Commission mandate.
Given the closeness of the Presidential vote this week in the face of such widespread evangelical support for the Republican ticket, it should be obvious that a large percentage of those outside our faith do not share the same political views. It pains me to think that many of those individuals will likely be even more resistant to Gospel-centered conversations as a result of recent actions and words of Christians, including some very prominent Christian leaders, in the context of this election.
Exit polls also reveal a great divide in the political leanings of white evangelicals compared to our minority brothers and sisters in Christ, to which we would be wise to be sensitive. Unity in the Body of Christ was a grave concern of Christ when he offered up that great priestly prayer found in John 17, and it should be a grave concern to us as well.
Personally, the disappointment and concern I have expressed here has in no way shaken my faith in God or my trust in his sovereignty. I am well aware that Daniel 2:2 informs us that he “deposes kings and raises up others”. But the testimony of Scripture also reminds us that sometimes he gives his people the leaders they ask for, and those haven’t always worked out so well. (1 Samuel 8:7, Ezekiel 14:3-5)
Having said all that, as commanded by Scripture, I will pray for and show respect for our new President, as well as those who supported him. I pray that he will prove himself to be more knowledgeable, disciplined, respectful, inclusive, and open to opposing views than he has demonstrated over the course of this contentious campaign.
While I may disagree with many of his policy proposals and am repulsed by so many of his words and actions, I will refrain from publicly disparaging his character or sharing false, misleading, and slanderous emails and social media posts, refusing to respond in kind to so many who have not hesitated to bombard my inbox and news feeds with such content.
This is the first politically themed article I have posted on this site, having wrestled more with my decision to publish it than with anything else I have written to date, knowing that many will not receive it with the same level of prayerful consideration by which it was drafted, extensively edited, and published.
I much prefer to focus on the things that should unite us as Christians – the concerns of God, rather than the concerns of men, (Matt. 16:23) resting on the assurance of Psalm 103:19 that “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.”
I pray that more Christians will join me in that focus, working toward healing the divide that has been unearthed in the Body of Christ this week and undoing any damage to our Gospel witness. Colossians 4:6 reminds us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” May that be the salt that defines us rather than the kind of salt that inflicts pain when rubbed into the wounds of political disappointment.
May we never forget as we celebrate political victories, as Jesus proclaimed before Pilate, that our kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3) “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans.“ (Psalm 118:8)
Note: All Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)