By Catherine Segars, Crosswalk.com
There were eight of us gathered around the table for a catered dinner at the house of my husband’s boss. The small talk was pleasant and expected. Nothing riveting or even interesting, really.
Then out of nowhere, someone mentioned the wall. Not the dining room wall or the wall in the hallway—the wall along the southern border of the U.S.
Suddenly, the atmosphere shifted. I thought, “Are we really going there at a work gathering?” We were.
Mere mention of that wall caused another wall to spring up across the dining room table. Guests proffered their positions, taking sides. The pros allied themselves as did the cons. Biting words were cloaked with a façade of good-natured intentions.
There’s a reason they say not to discuss politics in such settings.
We live in a hyper-politicized world. We cannot avoid political ads, articles, agendas, commentaries, and conversations. Nor should we. We should be aware and prepared. And we should participate in a way that ultimately glorifies Christ.
That isn’t easy to do. I’ve failed in this area. A lot. I’ve been unfriended over my political exchanges in the past, and I’ve been convicted by the Lord to change.
If you, like me, need some guidelines on how to navigate our politically-charged culture in a Godly way, here are some don’ts and do’s. Let’s look at why you shouldn’t be too involved, and why you should be involved, in politics:
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1. Don’t Be More Concerned about Position than People
I asked a guy where he went to church once, and he told me that he went to “The Tea Party Church.” I didn’t know that such a church existed. I was very sad to learn that it did.
While our political views must be influenced by our faith, they must not come before our faith. Our faith must inform our politics, not the other way around. If we get that order wrong, we will inevitably prioritize our position over the people we disagree with.
In a politically-charged conversation, remember that the person you are talking to is deeply loved by God. Don’t let their controversial or offensive beliefs obscure what they really need.
And to be clear, it isn’t your enlightenment they need most—it is Christ.
Express your views in a way that glorifies the God who made you—and the God who made those who oppose you. We must not be more intent on being right than being righteous. That means we must never prioritize our political position over people.
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2. Don’t Fail to Listen
However reprehensible you may find a person’s political views, recognize that they have those views for a reason.
Perhaps some difficult life circumstances led them to the wrong conclusions.
Perhaps some honorable motives led them to support policies that don’t achieve their goals.
Perhaps some obstacles that you have never experienced, that you cannot even fathom, have led an individual to an offensive political position.
Ask that person to explain his or her position. Listen intently. Ask questions to clarify. Ask questions to help this person find inconsistencies in their views. Gracefully allow him or her to ponder the viability and logic of their opinions.
Plant a seed, and let the Holy Spirit water it.
Then humbly allow the Holy Spirit to do the same in you. Recognize that no one is entirely correct in their views. Genuinely listen to that person who disagrees with you, and consider where your position is weak or unjust or un-Chr istlike. Graciously allow the possibility that you might be wrong.
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3. Don’t Ridicule Your Opponents and Your Leaders
Social media is rampant with vile characterizations of our leaders and their followers. Nasty labels are an easy way to score cheap points in the game of politics. It is easier to discount someone who is a racist, fascist, communist, sexist, or bigot than it is to contend with their ideas.
In the field of debate, using a nasty label is called an ad hominem attack. Such tactics signify that the debater has a weak argument. But more importantly, such tactics do not glorify God.
As stated before, we must challenge policies, not people.
As Christians, we must avoid the trap of labeling then discarding our opponents. That is how the world works. That is not how God works.
In 1 Peter 2:13-17, God commands us to honor our leaders.
It is important to note that the emperor referred to in this section of Scripture is most likely Nero, a ruler who made Christians into candlesticks. Tradition holds that under Nero’s rule, Peter was crucified upside down.
When it comes to governing officials, it is hard to find someone more ungodly than Nero.
And yet, these verses are crystal clear—God commands us to honor our leaders.
The fact that our leaders sometimes hurl hateful labels at each other and at us is not an excuse for us to do the same. As Christians, we are called to honor our leaders, not emulate them.
If Peter honored a man who martyred many of his beloved friends, coworkers, and eventually Peter himself, we can honor our leaders too—however ungodly they may be. And we must.
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4. Don’t Criticize Rather than Offer Constructive Solutions
Years ago, I sat in a fascinating Sunday School class that forever changed my perspective on the church and on society.
One of the associate pastors joined our gathering and asked us what we didn’t like about the church. We were a little hesitant to respond at first, but one brave soul offered a criticism. Then another. Then another. Pretty soon, everybody jumped on board. A half hour later, the chalk board was full of serious issues, and we were still going strong.
At that point I remember thinking, “Why, exactly, do we go to church here?”
I hadn’t realized that this collection of imperfect people had created such a flawed church until this long gripe session.
Finally, our pastor surveyed the healthy list of complaints and found a lot to agree with himself. Then he turned to us and said, “So, you guys are the church—what are you doing to fix all this?”
We were dumbfounded. It is easy to criticize. It’s much harder to be part of the solution.
In church and in society, we are quick to point fingers at our leaders, blaming them for all the ills we see. But that is not how God has designed community to work.
If you see something that is wrong in your church or in society, maybe you recognize that issue because God is calling you to be part of the remedy. Maybe you’re the solution. Maybe that problem still exists because God has ordained you to fix it.
There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks in life. God doesn’t call us to criticize from the sidelines. He calls us to get in the game.
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5. Don’t Assume a Motive
This is probably the most pervasive but overlooked mistake people make in political discussions. We know what someone’s political position is, and we assume that we know why they hold that position.
But we don’t.
God condemns sins like greed and envy in Scripture, but He doesn’t allow men or women to administer a punishment for those sins.
After all, God did allow the Old Testament judges to punish the sins of theft, adultery, blasphemy, and murder. Why not sins like greed and envy? The 10th commandment tells us not to covet. Why, then, can’t we punish those who covet?
Because we’re not qualified to. Judging greed and envy is above our paygrade.
God allows us to judge another person’s actions, but He does not allow us to judge another person’s motive. Because only God is qualified to judge a sin of the heart.
When someone supports a candidate or a policy, do not assume that you know why. Do not suggest that a person’s political position makes them a—fill in the blank. Do not assume that someone’s political position is rooted in prejudice or hate.
We aren’t qualified to judge another person’s motive.
Challenge policies—not people. Allow that another person may have the same ultimate goal as you, but he or she genuinely believes a different policy will better achieve that objective.
Debate the method, not the motive, because you don’t really know what motivates another person. You can only judge how effective their methods are at accomplishing the goal.
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6. Don’t Burn Bridges
I’ve known people who have disowned relatives over differing political views. They have sworn off their flesh and blood over which candidate they backed or didn’t back.
I wish that I was kidding.
My dad is pretty far to one side of the political spectrum, but he had a very close friend who was pretty far to the other side. They differed over political positions and Scriptural applications, and they had more than a few disputes. Some got a little heated.
But…when his friend got sick, my dad visited him several times a week. He read him stories and brought his family food. He drove his friend to the doctor.
These two old guys, well set in their ways, didn’t allow their political differences to interfere with what mattered most—their friendship. Ultimately, they realized that we will all be on the same side in heaven. And when my dad’s friend went to heaven, they agreed on what mattered most. They both loved God, and they both loved each other.
Don’t burn bridges over politics. If you do—you lose, and the enemy wins. Every time.
After a healthy list of don’ts, here is a quick list of do’s. You should be so involved in politics that you:
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1. Build Bridges
People aren’t converted by sandwich board evangelists who scream truths through a megaphone. They are converted through relationships. If you build a bridge of friendship based on true care and concern, your opinions will carry the weight you want them to.
2. Pray for our Leaders
Especially the ones you don’t agree with.
It is hard to ridicule or hate someone who is on your prayer list. Allow God to burden your heart with the weight of that person’s civic responsibility and the weight of their soul.
If all Christians would pray for our leaders to be in right relationship with God, then we would have less leaders to disagree with.
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3. Participate in Our Democracy
We have an unprecedented privilege afforded to few individuals in human history. We get to participate in selecting our leaders. We choose them.
This is more than a privilege—it is a responsibility. Educate yourself about the choices you have at the ballot box. Pray about who to choose and then pray for those righteous leaders to prevail.
4. Support Godly Leaders and Causes
Consider supporting Godly individuals and enterprises with your participation. Every righteous leader has a team of supporters. Consider donating time or money when God places a candidate or cause on your heart.
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5. Serve If Called
“When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan.” (Proverbs 29:2)
Everyone benefits when righteous men and women serve in our government. If God has gifted you for such service, go boldly into the political arena with God’s blessing knowing that through your service, the people will rejoice.
6. Be Notably Different
The political arena is one place where believers should be remarkably different than the world.
But too often, we’re not.
As Christians, we must not use the world’s methods of assuming, labeling, marginalizing, discarding, and disqualifying. We must challenge secular ideology and unjust policies, but we must do so in a way that honors God and draws people to Him.
Keep first things first, and your political exchanges will be a place where Godly fruit can grow.