Surviving the Election Cycle with Our Faith Intact

Sometimes I envy nations like Canada or the UK whose national elections tend to last weeks rather than our election cycles which seems to be in perpetual motion. A year from now, we'll be electing our next President (among others), and there will be a lot of debate in the public discourse -- a necessary part of our democratic experience. It's good for us to remember as we build toward Tuesday, November 8, 2016 that our faith in Jesus Christ teaches us another way to live, and we should exercise God's wisdom as we lend our voice to the process and hear the opinions of others.

Some might say that I am writing this awfully early. But the dividing lines have already been drawn and the rhetoric is reaching fever pitch. With that in mind, here is a bit of advice for believers as we enter the political season:

1] Be civil in your conversations. Civility does not insist on agreement, but it does insist on respectful treatment of others in our disagreements. James wrote this: "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be" (James 3:9-10). There is a temptation for us to "fight fire with fire", but Jesus shows us another way.

2] Be careful not to treat those who disagree with you as enemies. You may have sharp disagreements with others -- some of whom may be sitting next to you at church -- but there is no denying Jesus has clear teachings on how we are to treat an "enemy". If we can disregard Jesus' command to love our enemies, we might as well go ahead and disregard everything else Jesus had to say.

3] Be careful not to demonize the opposition. We tend to feel our politics very deeply, and our intolerance of the other side may cause us to label them in order to justify ridding them from our lives. We justify our judgment of one another, and Jesus had something to say about that (Matthew 7; Matthew 5:22). "For though we live in the world, we don't wage war as the world does" (2 Corinthians 10:3).

4] Don't expect your ideology to be the ideology of the church. Our unity is in Jesus Christ, not in sharing the same political ideologies. Our ideologies are a false foundation on which to build the church, and they will only succeed in dividing us and driving away those who disagree with us. We build on Jesus, and it takes discipline (and lots of love and grace) to build this way, especially when everything else around us is dividing into opposing camps.

5] Vote your conscience. It is the primary role of the church to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to influence or dictate votes. I have to trust that each believer is carefully discerning the choices in front of them according to their faith and conscience. I will not use the platform of the local church to support a political party or particular candidate. I will, instead, keep my nose in the business of the Gospel. Paul said in Romans 14:19 that we should "make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification" in the church. I'll work toward that.

6] While we work for a better government, we should not put our hope in government. I have yet to see a politician, a political system, or a nation who has capably built the kind of Kingdom the Christian seeks. Government does a lot of good work -- but not always. Believers should be good citizens whose interest is our neighbor's good and whose love for God motivates us to seek his kingdom (Matthew 6:33). We work for good, but we trust in God.

7] Our higher allegiance is to Jesus Christ. Yes, that's right: higher than our loyalty to party, ideology, or even nation. We can so easily forget this and find ourselves being sucked into this protracted fight that brings us to fisticuffs with those whom we disagree. Paul reminds us our citizenship is first and foremost in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and that allegiance causes us to live differently in the here and now. Both citizenships are important, but Christ is supreme.