Each election year, I walk into my polling station with the confidence of a woman endowed with Christ’s secret candidate preference and walk out with that Arrested Development’s adage in my head: “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Because if I’m being really honest with myself, there is no Christian political party.
Both sides of the aisle make concessions. So how can I ever in good conscience feel that my vote is the Christian one?
A Political Dilemma
The issues are complex and neither party represents all my values. I can choose to protect the unborn and religious freedom, in exchange for the death penalty, strict immigration policies and wars. Or I can accept the grave murder of innocents in order to protect lives abroad, on the border and in our prisons. Neither of these embody a truly Christian option.
But I, and so many others, would rather claim our choice as the exclusive Christian choice rather than admit that perhaps no political party encompasses it.
I think we do this for several reasons. We value politics in its ability, as Aristotle said, “to engender a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions.” We recognize a moral responsibility to statesmanship in as much as we can protect the citizens affected by it.
But I think there is another fear. Christians don’t want to lose their voice in the political sphere. Our political integrity is measured by our independence from our faith. An obstinate mass with “sheeplike” deference to their religion must be transformed into esteemed statesmen or it won’t get respect.
Christians have been left to define themselves within a pre-constructed binary platform.
We “pick sides” and are now the two camps of Christianity we have today. And instead of seeking to understand, we let the media’s social narrative prop up our ego and feed resentment about the “other” Christians who picked the wrong side.
By choosing “a camp,” I persistently fail to see the individual that is making a choice as earnestly as I am. I wield issues of human dignity as tools to distinguish the “evil” and the “good” Christians. God in His radical omnipotence allows us to choose but I, in my arrogance, cannot allow another to cast their ballot in earnest without derision. And unlike Christ who would peer into the eyes of an adulterous woman before making judgments, or evaluate the Pharisees on their fruits and not their reputation, I, and many others, fail to authentically see or understand the “other.”
Have we put ourselves in the shoes of the unemployed blue-collar worker who hears politicians’ promises while a stack of bills grows in his mailbox? Have we thought of the well-meaning mother of a beautiful child with Down syndrome who was advised by doctors to abort? How could her experience not influence her on the primacy of that issue come election time?
Have we grown so cold that we can’t see our brother or sister? I let myself believe the partisan narrative: the ad hominem attacks, the sensationalizing of a mass of people through a few videos, but God continually and lovingly throws me for a loop when I encounter these people in their humanity.
A Gospel Position
In the throes of the Vietnam war, an American monk, Thomas Merton, was looking at the increasingly radical peace movement of the progressive left and a Christian conservative right voicing support for the war. In his eyes, neither embodied Christ. In his journal, Thomas Merton argued that the job of the Christian was to try to give an example of “sanity, independence, human integrity … against all establishments and all mass movements and all current fashions which are merely mindless and hysterical.” We should act in a way that embodies a clearly recognizable Christian and gospel position.
And that is a position I have not yet seen available.
If we believe that our party is “the Christian one,” we should live in a way that showcases a reason to believe in it. We should engage with differing opinions peacefully and compassionately. Encounter the “other” as a child of God. And empathize with an experience we may know nothing about.
We panic about the political divisions in our church because we are clinging to our politics with “fear and trembling,” and not to our faith. No politician will ever fully magnify Christ. And that is where, in confidence, we must stand side by side with the “others” and pray to our true shepherd.
Place your faith in something bigger than a two-minute sound bite, or policy. We should place it unconditionally in Christ. Everything else will fall away and at the end, all we will have is a pile of dirt and infinitely more in the eternal heart of Christ.
This November let’s cast our votes, feel discomfort and then remember where our true comfort lies. We have to remain outraged by injustice, tireless in our fight for justice, and yet find some sort of peace along the way. Feel the type of peace that can look Pontius Pilate in the face and say, “I am not of this world.”
And then pray for our new president.