Perhaps you have experienced something like I have in the past few weeks: You are speaking with a friend or acquaintance, and all of a sudden you see that the conversation is going to head toward the political. Even worse, you have a growing suspicion that this person—perhaps someone you care deeply about—will not be voting as you plan on voting in the coming election.
If you are like me, this sets off a firestorm of emotions inside of you. On the one hand, it arouses all the political convictions and commitments that mean so much to me: “How could this person not see the necessity of righting this injustice or protecting that freedom or strengthening this institution? I must intervene to correct their waywardness!”
On the other hand, it also sets off clanging warning bells. This could threaten my relationship to this person! It could lead to open conflict (which I hate and fear), or it could cause them to like me less if my own feelings were known. As much as I want to correct the other, I also want to run away from the situation and the disagreement. If we all just gave up our political convictions, couldn’t we get along?
While both of these reactions are real and based on important considerations, neither, ultimately, is sufficient as a Christian response to the situation.
Christian humility requires that I keep a check on my own convictions, no matter how important that I feel they are. I have been wrong before, and I could well be wrong again. Or even more likely, I could be not quite wrong but understandably, humanly limited. The other person likely has not seen the importance in everything that I see, but similarly, I have not seen everything that they have. Even assuming a situation where I am substantially in the right, that does not give me the role of “my brother’s keeper,” someone who can take responsibility for another’s opinions and actions. Christ himself famously refused to be vindicated by armies of angels even though it was within his prerogative. It certainly is not within mine!
This does not mean that indifference, “toleration,” or withdrawal are acceptable, either. Unlike some spiritual traditions, Christianity does rightfully insist that its message and its followers have a contribution to make to how people live in the public sphere. It is not a matter of simply becoming indifferent to any outcome, extinguishing our hopes/desires, or allowing each person to “have their own truth.” Injustice is real and must be opposed by Christian believers. Our world is real, not an illusion or a private perception, and we share it in common. We must work to make that world a better place, especially for those who are most vulnerable—even at the cost of temporary conflict or disruption.
Christ’s response, therefore, takes elements from both of my initial reactions. Yes, Christians are called to be people of passionate conviction, working toward practical goals and changes in society. Yet they are called to do so with humility and love. It’s not that political debates or even conflicts are unimportant, but rather that our Christian faith reveals to us that there are things far more important: The love of God for his children is universal and irrevocable, regardless of political affiliation. The care of the world is necessary, but ultimately in God’s hands and not just my own. This world, with all of its sin and division, does need a Savior… but it is certainly not me nor anyone who is on the ballot this coming week.
That is my faith, and that is the depth that I will seek to respond from when confronted with the ongoing political divisions in our country. Likely in some situations I will find God moving me to speak up and claim my place at the table and in others God will ask me to calm down and allow a tense moment to pass by without making it about my ideas. But in all cases, I wish to put my faith in God and God’s providence. These are realities that will far outlast our current struggles.
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.