Well, it’s started. The rallies, the begging emails, the frantic calls. It’s primary season as we prepare for the midterm elections. It’s enough to make me want to hide my head in the sand for the next nine months. As I think about the last few elections, and what I wish for this one—or maybe, more accurately, what I don’t want to see in this one, including from myself—
I offer these hopeful rules for civil engagement
as we practice our civic engagement:
Refuse to demonize—No one, not my personal favorite politician or the one that appalls you the most, not even you or I—is all good or all bad. Let’s not fall into the trap of making a human out to be the devil incarnate—or a savior. What they are is human. So are we.
Don’t judge the eternal salvation of another person—People who love Jesus, who have a lifegiving relationship with him, and who seek to follow him wholly exist in both political parties and in none. Really, it’s true. Christ followers legitimately come down on different sides of issues that matter in our politics and have arrived there after studying Scripture and listening to the Spirit of God. A person’s political party affiliation nor their hot-button issues is a determining factor in their salvation through Jesus Christ. Let’s resist making ourselves spiritual judges.
Seek to understand—We all have blind spots. We all have incomplete knowledge of whatever the issue. It’s quite possible someone else, even someone on the other side of the political divide, understands more about an issue than we do. So even when we vehemently disagree, try dialog. Ask: Why is that issue so important to you personally? What are the qualities you want in a leader? Help me understand why you think that person is the best person to elect? Then thank them for explaining before you even consider starting to tell them why you think differently.
Pay attention to tone of voice, and I’m talking about our own—Asking questions to try to understand another’s rationale for voting in a certain way or being concerned about a certain issue can be healthy. But how are we asking? A great difference exists between “What is it you’re thinking?” and “WHAT are you thinking?!?!” Ask only if we’re willing to listen and try to understand.
Show respect—Whatever we think of this person’s politics or even that politician, they are created in the image of God. They are deeply loved by God and deserving of our respect. Don’t interrupt (yes, I struggle with this one in every area of my life). Be kind. Don’t engage in name calling of the person we’re talking to or the politician they support.
Assume every American is patriotic—Seriously, I’ve not met any citizen who hates America. Don’t play the “patriotism belongs to one party” card. Americans deeply love our country, are thankful to live here, and want America to be even better. When we correct our children’s faults, it doesn’t mean we don’t love them; it means we envision something better for their behavior because we love them. In the same way, pointing out America’s faults and working to correct them doesn’t mean someone doesn’t love America; it means they want America to do better, be better, because they love America.
Recognize the gray spectrum—Don’t paint everything in an all-or-nothing, good-or-evil, binary fashion. Most issues host a whole range of gray. Not one of us is perfect, so we individually or as a political party aren’t able to craft perfect solutions. Be willing to examine our own position on issues that aren’t so simplistic. Be willing to ask if this policy impacts someone else in a different way than it does us. In what ways does the best solution lie somewhere between the extremes? How do we get there?
Reject the idea that a vote for a person or a party means someone agrees with everything they stand for—In our present system, we have two viable parties. If you want to get elected, you run in one of them, in most cases. Every politician, every voter, has positions they feel most strongly about and others that they don’t really consider. Accept that Americans vote for the person who comes closest to promoting their own ideals, but it doesn’t mean they necessarily endorse every single position of that politician or party.
Agree to disagree—We don’t have to engage in every fight someone brings to our schoolyard. We can, especially after we have sought to understand and listen, refuse to discuss this issue/candidate/situation again.
Don’t lie—I’m sorry I have to even say this, especially since most of my audience are Christians. But the lies I’ve heard Christians willing to tell over the last decade have appalled me. Lying isn’t God’s method for “winning” or allowable because you “can’t stand” that person (yes, someone told me it was okay to repeat a lie on social media because they couldn’t stand that politician). Honor God in your speech. Don’t share something on Facebook without checking out the actual truth of the situation from multiple sources. I would add here, don’t be crude, including in “cute” memes.
Read and listen to a variety of sources—We’ve ended up in these siloed worlds where we only listen to people who think just like we do. That’s not healthy—especially in a world where sensationalism and anger are what counts as news because it draws eyeballs. Even if it makes our skin crawl, watch news broadcasts or read articles we consider to be “the other side.” Be willing to hunt for any truths we may actually be missing in our one-sided world. Everyone (including you) has an agenda, and we conveniently leave out truths that don’t align with what we want to be true. Even better watch or read international news outlets; often they have a more balanced view of what the American issues really are. Being well read helps. But stay off the conspiracy threads on the internet. The only goal of these groups is to get people pursuing shadowy lies.
Consider “the least of these”—How do the policies I love, the politicians I plan to vote for, impact the lives of those Jesus tells us we are to care for: the hungry, the stranger, the poor, the homeless, the prisoner, the widow, the fatherless (Matthew 25:31–46 and James 1:27). It’s easy to think about how policies affect my paycheck, my lifestyle, but God says we are to be about caring for others. And that wasn’t just for individuals. The laws he established for the nation of Israel were created to ensure justice for the vulnerable, the forgotten. And the Israelites were punished for ignoring them. What policies do we need to support and encourage our politicians to support, even if they don’t matter to our own daily life or may even impact our pocketbooks?
Pray—We can ask God for wisdom for our own vote. We can ask for wisdom for our leaders. We can ask for God to convict us and others when we are disrespectful, unkind, lying or wrong. God’s Spirit wants to speak to our spirits. Let’s invite him to do so.