The general election season is about to begin.
In the coming weeks, the Democratic and Republican national conventions will commence in modified fashion due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Presidential and gubernatorial debates will look different, as well. By late October and, of course, on November 3, millions will go to the polls to register their vote.
It is anticipated that this election, much as in 2016, will be divisive and highly partisan. If you recall, the election in 2016 was among the most heated in American history. Perhaps only the contests between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams could compete with and, even, exceed the visceral nature of the previous election.
As we prepare for the election, we will hear rhetoric from all sides that will attempt to shape the outcome. Advocates will talk about the character of one over another. We’ll hear about policies and how they are what is needed for America, and the world, to thrive. As well, we’ll hear how the refusal to vote for one candidate or another is an affront to our faith and connection to God.
One of my passions is public theology. That is the study and discernment of how faith intersects with our public life and, yes, political discourse. It is not a study of how to get the nation to become a theocracy. Instead, it seeks to examine how we live faithfully as citizens of God’s kingdom within our connections and activities in the public world. And, yes, that includes how or why we vote and how we engage the election process.
With the dawn of the fall campaign upon us, the question that I am wrestling with is this: how can we be faithful to God in the political process?
First, I believe we must be willing to pray for the election and those who are seeking leadership positions in the fall.
Prayer is the lifeblood and engine of faith. In prayer, we are crying out to God our deepest desires, but, as well, we are seeking to be aligned to God’s will for our lives and the world. By praying for the election and the candidates, we are not going to God with a specific wish list of what we desire to happen. Instead, we are seeking God’s discernment upon the process, guidance upon those who would seek to lead, and the next steps of what it means to be faithful in this time. With this prayer, it is more about listening for God’s direction than it is about expressing our desires.
Second, we cannot be faithful to our walk with Christ and use the most vile and hateful rhetoric to describe those with whom we disagree with politically.
Too often our political discourse is akin to something we would see on professional wrestling or the old “Jerry Springer Show.” We will call each other names and believe that our political opposite is filled with nothing but evil. When we, as followers of Christ, resort to this language, we dilute the message of the Gospel and the call to love our neighbor as ourselves. Living this commandment out means that we must engage our political discourse with the same love that we would desire to be shared with us, even when it is hard to do.
Finally, at least for this discussion, we cannot see our churches as political centers of power and control.
The church is not a reflection of the Republican Party platform, nor is it a carbon copy of the Democratic Party platform. The church is the bride of Christ and the ongoing witness of Jesus’ love in a broken and hurting world. Our desire for a church that best reflections our own political ideology is not helpful or, even, the best approach. Our focus must always be upon serving Christ and Christ alone. Any other motive or agenda distracts us from the primary purpose of the church as the mission of Christ.
That means we will be a place where Republicans, Democrats, and members of any other political group will worship and break bread together in a desire to love God, grow in faith, and serve the Lord. We will be a place where we will wrestle with big issues and do so through the lens of what is God asking of us as a church and people of faith. We will be a place where we will live as kingdom citizens and not as advocates of our political desires.
One of my basic beliefs is that people still are watching us to see if they can trust God. People look to us to see what it means to live like Christ. There is no more important and challenging opportunity for us to show what it means to live and love like Christ than in an election cycle that can be fueled by hatred and division.
This is an opportunity to show the greater way of Christ and of love.