Political Civility

Choose your enemies carefully ‘cause they will define you –Bono

Tis the season for politicking, but for reasons which will soon become clear I have avoided giving much attention to happenings in the political world.  When George Bush was President I occasionally tuned into a liberal talk show, just to listen.  From it I learned that Bush was an idiot, incompetent, evil mastermind (always thought these traits didn’t quite go together), part of a conspiracy for corporations to take over America, war criminal, and should be impeached as soon as possible.  While helping me to better understand a different political stance from mine own, it soon became obnoxious.  When Barak Obama was elected I genuinely expected to see a difference in how conservatives treated him.  Listen to a conservative commentator today and you will learn that Obama is a Muslim, part of socialist/liberal conspiracy to take over America, not an American citizen, and trying to destroy the economy so that people will become dependent on the government.

While both sides exposed different ideals, I was surprised to see they actually had a lot in common.  Both rely on sound-bites, the epitome of decontextualized speech.  Name calling, insulting intelligence, generalizations, demonizing, and catastrophizing are equally prevalent.  I fear that both are singing the same song, just with different words.

What is most bothering is that religious people in American have a tendency to be worst offenders of political civility.  Too often we are easy prey to political rumors and chain emails.  There is also an even graver danger we are liable to, confusing our politics and religion; promoting our personal political convictions as if the gospel.  If we get the two confused then the world certainly will.  It is better to lose elections than to put obstacles in the way of people coming to Christ.  Engaging politics as a Christian without civility only helps to confuse unbelievers, not to mention displaying un-Christ like behavior.

Before we rush to the Bible to determine what it says about the issues, we need to consider how the Bible directs us to participate in politics.  When this happens we find all kinds of uncomfortable verses about loving our enemy and caring for our neighbor.  We run into James’ warnings about how to speak to someone created in the image of God.  With this in place we can gather with other believers to discover how Scripture comes to bear on the issues.

An example of this is a discussion which took place at the college I attended.  It’s a conservative Christian college, but some students have liberal political views.  We had a chapel to discuss the issues in the upcoming election.  Naturally the issue of abortion came up.  One of the liberal students made the comment that he wanted to vote for a candidate who was going to support the child after it is born.  Ouch!

Interestingly both our views were based on Scripture.  He came to his conclusion validly by emphasizing parts of Scripture about caring for the physical needs of others that I had ignored.  In addition, he made a judgment about the nature of government.  There is a common belief that the Bible supports small or limited government.  The only problem with this view is the Bible doesn’t say that.  Such a belief is an assumption (valid or invalid) based on Scripture.  Such assumptions are open to legitimate disagreement by Christians.

In the process of writing this post I have gotten a little more specific than I intended, fearing that people would focus more on the political issues being discussed than on what I am trying to communicate.  Hopefully, the examples will make the message much more practical as we consider how to treat those with differing political views as neighbors, not enemies.

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6 comments

  1. benjaminfunkhouser · October 28, 2010

    This is such a sensitive issue that I’m almost afraid to comment on it, but I’m glad you bring it up and I have a couple thoughts.

    First, I have noticed a lot of resentment and apathy about politics by our generation (20-yr-olds) of Christians. You did a good job of explaining why this has happened: we’ve become tired of the media bias and the ignorant church politics.

    Second, I can’t help but think that we’ve got to be more discerning in our politics. I predict that many Christians in our generation are going to be more “liberal.” But why? Not because they’re more discerning than their parents, but because they enjoy being “progressive” and care more about the image democrats portray than what they actually stand for. This is my fear, and I hope I’m wrong. What do you think?
    My experience with Christian democrats my age has often left me with the impression that they are full of themselves and can’t stop thinking about how cool they are for being a Christian democrat. ()Don’t get me wrong, I think there are a lot of problems with Republicans too, as there are with every political party)

    Third, what does the Bible say when it comes to politics? I keep thinking of Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Specifically, I see the emphasis God places on justice. Social Justice is something we as Christians should be all for. But let’s use discernment too! Welfare can be good, but it can also be something which keeps people trapped in a system of unhealthy dependency. Euthanasia is absolutely sickening, higher taxes hurt small businesses which make it harder for many Americans to stay off the street.

    Fourth, I’m glad you wrote this article and spoke of the need for us to get along. Even in writing this response I’m sure I’ve made generalizations and assumptions which may not be adequate: but that comes back to my point – for Christians to practice discernment and be involved in politics, with a spirit of humility, to effect change based on the Bible.

    Fifth, a quick note about abortion. I think its importance in determining political stance is born out of one’s presuppositions about it. If you believe that abortion is literally a modern-day genocide, worse than the holocaust and a horror that chips away at the foundations of human society, then that will naturally lead you to one position. If you believe that abortion is harmless or on the same level as something like legalizing marijuana, for example, then you will elevate other justice concerns above it.

    Thanks for the post. Feel free to take this response apart, I wrote it pretty quickly and may not have stated everything clearly.

    -Ben

  2. benjaminfunkhouser · October 28, 2010

    Hey Caleb, just to append my reply, I wanted to say that I really liked what you said about engaging in politics with civility and loving those who are different than us. I find many faults with myself in this area. If Christians on both sides had more respect for each other rather than pride in their views then the world would see Christ more clearly. I am in need of this advice as much as anyone.
    -Ben

  3. roadgeon · October 29, 2010

    It’s exciting, this post has had more views than normal.

    You brought up a good point about justice Ben. What I was trying to get at in the post is the tone in which we work out the issues. What tone should be used when confronting issues of injustice. I think it is possible to be forceful, while at the same time maintaining a proper respect. It is a difficult balance to maintain.

    I think it is also important to consider how to promote justice in America. Do we use politics, art, music, intellectual debate, movies, or popular culture. There was a group of Christians in America (i.e. Moral Majority, Christian Coalition) whose philosophy was essentially if Christians got enough political power they could direct the moral course of America to God. They are still trying.

    It is my belief that the law has little power to change a person morally. Only a change of heart can do that. For this reason I will still vote and be involved as a good citizen, but I am not going to take it too seriously. All my eggs are in the basket of seeing individuals spiritually transformed into the likeness of Christ. Only when this happens to enough people in America with justice be able to exist, even for the unborn. If I believed that being active in politics had the power to do this I would jump in whole-heartedly.

    • benjaminfunkhouser · November 13, 2010

      Thanks for the reply. That’s an interesting viewpoint. It always seems to get tricky in legislating morality, and I understand that true change must happen in the heart.

      But… I think abortion is far more than a moral matter. The protection of the innocent is an essential foundation of society. In this case I think we must use all the political power we can muster to regain rights for the unborn.

      We legislate murder of humans that are alive, right? We could make murder legal and try to change people’s hearts, but the fact is, more people would be murdered if it wasn’t illegal; regardless of our efforts to change people’s moral lives.

      To me, it’s the same with abortion. I agree and believe that we should do all we can as Christians to love people who are having abortions and try to change their hearts through Christlike love and sharing the gospel.
      If abortion was illegal there would be less murdered children. I cannot get around that fact – God established government – I think we have a responsibility to influence our culture through government on behalf of the helpless, and unborn children are the most helpless human beings on the earth.

      • roadgeon · November 30, 2010

        I can see what you mean. Declaring abortion illegal would result in far less abortions. However, I don’t think that will happen or become permanent unless hearts change first. Murder is not illegal simply because a law exist against it. I would guess that 99.9% of Americans believe that murder is morally wrong. They believe in a standard outside of the law code and have as a consequence established laws recognizing this. In democracies like this the conception of right and wrong of the governed, whether or not it conforms to God’s standards, become the law.
        Though it was the Supreme Court which allowed abortion to be legal, such could only happen because of changes which had already taken place with in the culture. I think changing the law only provided a catalyst to speed the change towards a wider acceptance of abortion.
        I acknowledge that I have not taken the power of legal change as seriously as I should. Looking at the Civil Rights movement is probably helpful. I have not studied it much but I think it change in the way the majority of society perceived race preceded laws for equality. However, laws were essential to overcoming those hardened against equality, especially in the South. It was the Federal government which forced institutions in the South to change, with then shaped the culture and the human heart, paving the way for more legal changes.

  4. benjaminfunkhouser · November 30, 2010

    I like your point that whatever the culture considers right and wrong becomes the law. That is very true. I haven’t been thinking about it from that angle and I think you’re right, that if the culture changes to more Biblical values then more Biblical laws will follow. I, and others who favor political action need to remember this.

    I also agree that the Civil Rights movement is a good example of what we’re talking about. In that case, the laws changed before the culture did, but the culture had to eventually change as well.

    Politics is a really fascinating subject for me!

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