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.