I have a new lament each September 11th. The Friday before last, as the nation reflected on the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, my heartache was for my students. None of my students have experienced a culture that was not at war or divided. They have lived their entire lives steeped in the conflict of humanity, amplified by a constant digital onslaught of information. Stress, fear, anger, tension, sorrow, false assuredness, and murky confusion are the undercurrents of every human interaction in our culture and a trademark of our political climate.
The people of God are not inherently immune to the ways of the world. As an emotionally charged election looms, fears and concerns about the implications and future of our society weigh heavily on the hearts of most people. Politics are important. God is sovereign and intentional with the times and circumstances of our lives (Is 46:9-11, Acts 17:26). What we do politically matters, but we must first be servants of the King before we are citizens of a country.
For those who can vote, their vote matters, and the results of elections affect the world in which we live. However, each one of us, regardless of voter status, will make a greater impact this election day, and every day to come, with how we speak to others. Those in Christ are a new creation, who are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and are to be salt and light to the world around us. We must be in the world, but not of the world, and we must seek to live peaceably in every possible way. How should we hold these tensions of being both Christians and also active, earthly participants in the events of our lives?
It is foundational that we never use principles and tactics we would object to someone else using, and we must never adopt principles and tactics that are opposed to the Gospel of Jesus. Every word we speak is a word of discipleship to our children, students, and the watching world. This is as true for political discussions as it is for family disagreements and sharing the Gospel. This is the way of life for all believers in all things. Every thought is to be held captive for Christ. We speak the truth of God and defend the hope within us as citizens of a greater Kingdom. We shine light into the darkness of lies, but we do so with gentleness and respect. So, what does this look like in this political age? How can we disciple the next generation as we speak about politics?
Three Core Principles:
- We must remember that only God is omniscient. God alone knows the minds, hearts, and intentions of humans. We must be wise and discerning about statements that can only be verified if you know the mind, heart, and intentions of another human. We should be charitable in dealing with all people because we are incapable of knowing all things about them. The closest we can come to actually knowing another person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions is if they tell us, and even then, there is a chance we do not have the whole story, or that we misunderstand. We would never want someone else to tell us they know what we are thinking, feeling, and intending and then pass judgement on us. We must be a people who honor the omniscience of God by never attributing it to ourselves or others. Let us be a people who worship God by being charitable and restrained in our speaking because we understand we do not know everything perfectly.
- We must remember that only God is sinless. There is no person, no political party, no country, no culture, nor any other human identity marker or institution that is sinless. Everything that involves humans in this world is stained with sinfulness. We tend to treat our opponents as flawed, ignorant, or evil, with no access to truth or goodness. We tend to view ourselves and those who agree with us as . . . well . . . sinless. The truth is that all are sinful and all need forgiveness (Gen 6:11, Rom 3:10). It is also true that God in his grace gives access to parts of his truth and goodness even to the unbeliever (Ps 145:9, Mt 5:44-45, Acts 14:17, Rom 2:4). We must be a people who recognize the root of the problems in this world. The problem is not in “the other who is not like us,” the problem is us. As Jesus answered the question, “who is my neighbor,” so he also answered the question, “who is included with us.” Every human made in the image of God is bestowed with value, worth, and dignity, and is also a sinner in need of forgiveness in Christ. If we start speaking to each other like those foundational principles are true in every conversation, our conversations will start to be a lot more like salt and light.
- We must remember that only God redeems, and that is our greatest need. On that final day when we stand face to face with God, he will not ask us about our politics. Though politics and earthly events matter, and require our attention, they will never be ultimate for the believer. Our greatest hope and need is that we belong to God as heirs with Christ, in Christ. Nothing should matter to us more, and nothing should shape our words and actions more than that. If your enemy is thirsty, give them water. Feed your enemy. Pray for your enemy. If someone forces you to walk a mile with them, go two miles with them. If someone strikes your cheek or takes your shirt, give them your other cheek and your jacket. These are not commands to be the victims of crime or abuse. These are descriptions of fruit from a heart that knows its only true hope. These are supernatural reversals of the cruelty of humans to destroy their enemies. Instead of returning hatred for hatred, the Christian is called to pour out the goodness of God they have received, even into the lives of their enemies. We must be a people who are so enrapt and filled with the love and forgiveness of God that we desire above all else to give that to others. We must be a people who desire to forgive as we have been forgiven, and who truly believe nothing is more important than proclaiming the eternal hope that is within us. We must believe that loving the person in front of us according to Christ and proclaiming Christ in truth is more important than winning any election or argument.
These principles must be the core of every one of our interactions, regardless of our position or our opponent. This is what it is to be a new creation. We are a people who see that humanity is divided into those who have Christ and those who need Christ. God commands that there be no partiality, no other human barriers among us (Js 2:1-4). We are all image-bearers, and we are all different. But once we lay our sins at the feet of Jesus, our differences are a gift to each other. Once we see God as God, forgive others as we have been forgiven, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, we begin to have healthy interactions, Kingdom interactions. This is only possible by the grace of God as he conforms us to his image. But by the grace of God, we can be Christ-like image-bearers and disciple makers.