Once again, we’re in the middle of election season—the season that seems to come around all too often and stick around far too long. Some of our dinner table dynamics are still trying to recover from “conversations” that percolated after the last debate, and our “unfriend” counts are picking up speed.
We have come to embrace the fact (whether we like it or not) that the political process in this country involves mudslinging, political posturing and combative debate. With that said, I’m yet to meet a person who finds that reality helpful. Most alarming, the Christian community often falls prey to this failed political discourse though its participation or fueling of an unsafe, divisive environment.
We need to stop that. But how exactly does the Christian community live in this election season as a signpost of the kingdom rather than a pawn in a political power play? There are at least four ways we can start.
Spend At Least as Much Energy Advancing the Kingdom as You Do Your Candidate
Based on one’s core convictions and values, there is no doubt that some candidates are a better choice than others. The championing of a candidate becomes problematic when we find ourselves spending more emotional and physical energy advancing the cause of a candidate than we do advancing God’s Kingdom, which has both come and is coming.
Championing a candidate and championing the Kingdom are certainly not mutually exclusive, but they are far from the same thing.
A good question to ask in this election season: “Does my life’s energy more reflect a desire for God’s Kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven,” or a desire for my candidate to get elected and his/her agenda implemented?
Be Careful Where You Place Your Hope
I don’t know how many times I have heard Christians say something like this about their political aspirations, “If my candidate (insert name) isn’t elected, the United States will fall apart, and I’m not sure I even want to be here when that happens.” Or, “If my candidate (insert name) is elected, our next generation will finally have somewhere to place their hope.”
Both sentiments are problematic. First, no candidate or system is perfect, so we must not ever claim as much. We can get so caught up in the political game that we whitewash the corruption that is marbled into our political system and place our candidate/party/system on an unwarranted pedestal. This blind hope reduces Christians to pawns in a politically partisan drama, rather than signposts for the hope found in the upside-down Kingdom of God.
Second, we can celebrate and endorse our political institution without worshiping it. As one who came to upend and reorient the power structures around a system of love and selfless sacrifice, it’s hard to imagine Jesus entrusting the hope of His Kingdom agenda to the agenda of Rome’s political systems and power players. Our hope isn’t found in a political party or system, it’s in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
How Someone Is Elected Is as Important as Being Elected
This is often where things get pretty ugly. As our Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds, family reunions and conversations at the park fill up with political rhetoric, mudslinging and dehumanizing language, Christians have a choice. We can either join the chorus of unhelpful sound bites seeking to “win,” or we can model constructive discourse that places relationship ahead of political agenda.
The discipleship challenge in the midst of a heated political climate is to embrace a posture of curiosity that seeks to understand rather than to be understood. “Winning” an election while losing our prophetic witness as a community shaped by the cross is not “winning” at all. We don’t have to fall victim to this game of rhetoric and political posturing. It is possible to stand for our core values without being jerks in the process.
Remember Your Primary Allegiance and Live Like It’s Real
In the end, our primary allegiance isn’t to the United States of America; our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God.
Yes, we are U.S. citizens with a corresponding set of responsibilities (voting being one of them!), but we are first and foremost kingdom citizens. It is a Kingdom without borders whose values often run in direct opposition to many of our cultural values of acquisition, power, prestige, control, peace through violence or winning at any cost.
When our allegiances get inverted, bad things happen and we fail to live into our call to be salt and light in a world desperately in need.
We live in a system where elections matter because they determine who will make decisions that impact people—people created in the image of God and with infinite worth. In so much as that is true, elections are worth our attention. But getting our candidate elected isn’t worth compromising our witness.
And, in the end, whether our candidate is elected or not has no bearing on our call to live, love and lead in a way that reflects God’s heart for the world amid the muck and messiness of everyday life in our homes, neighborhoods, nation and world.