With less than a week left to go until Election Day, the political campaigns are making their final pitch to convince you of who and what to vote for. It’s important that we engage in conversation about the issues, but I’m concerned by the degree of hostility that I sometimes see displayed in the midst of discussions about politics, especially online within social media forums like Facebook and Twitter.
As we enter the final week before the election, I want to share a few thoughts on how to engage in the political process in a way that will not only make you an engaged citizen, but also in a way that will allow you to still have some friends after the election:
1. Determine your framework for decision-making
Many people don’t even consider this step. It’s often an entirely unconscious process. Their values are culturally shaped by the influence of others around them without their knowledge. They grew up in a particular kind of family, went to a particular kind of school in a particular area of the country and were influenced at each step of the way. This is inevitable for all of us, however once we realize this, intentional thought on this topic is needed. Our worldview serves as our filter for decision making, which makes it of huge importance.
For Christians who profess to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and uphold the Bible as our infallible guide, the Bible, rather than any other opinions or philosophy, should be the primary influencer of our value system and shape our worldview. A Biblical worldview is something that can take time to develop, but there are many great resources available to help. (Breakpoint, the ministry of Chuck Colson, has many great resources to help Christians think Biblically about social issues and would be a great place to start if you want to begin developing a Biblical worldview.)
2. Become informed about the issues and the candidates
It’s important to get educated about the issues the country is facing and with the message of the different candidates. Just having an opinion isn’t necessarily worth much, it’s having facts and valid information that matters. Proverbs 18:2 says “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Don’t let political discourse degrade into airing opinions with no desire for truth.
There are many ways to get informed, but there is usually a good deal of spin on both sides. I would particularly recommend looking at the candidates websites themselves. Watching the presidential debates can also be particularly helpful as they allow you to see one candidate compared side-by-side with another. (The recordings of the recent presidential debates are all available on YouTube.) Don’t trust the ads you see to give a fair representation of the other candidate. They may point out some things for you to look into, but by all means, do a little investigation of your own.
3. Joyfully embrace your civic responsibility
I don’t think we should view our participation in the political process as drudgery, but rather something to be embraced joyfully as a blessing from God. Some Christians act as though we shouldn’t care about elections or other “worldly things”, that we should rather focus entirely on telling others about Jesus and saving them from and eternity apart from Christ. While I agree this is our foremost concern, God has sovereignly placed us as citizens of a particular nation and given us rights and responsibilities associated with that placement.
Jesus said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”. (Mark 12:17) In the same way that we are obliged to pay taxes, we are also obliged to vote for the candidate that will influence our nation in the most God-honoring direction. Yes, no candidates are perfect, in this election and in every election, but there are some issues that are more important than others, and there are some candidates that are better than others. Vote accordingly.
Rather than viewing civic responsibility as opposed to missional Christianity, I urge my brothers and sisters in Christ to accept these two things in the proper order of priority but to engage in both.
4. Communicate with candor and kindness
Rather than just avoiding conversations with people you may disagree and demonizing them behind their backs speak to them directly and with an open heart and an open mind. This is best done face to face. I honestly can’t emphasize this enough. Shooting out stinging one-liners on Twitter or giving a diatribe on Facebook may make you feel better, but too often it doesn’t advance any kind of meaningful dialogue about the issues and only irritates half of your friends.
I wonder how many people will actually distance themselves from people that they previously considered friends because of things said and done during this election season. It’s a sad thing to think about.
When communicating on social media or in any written form take great care as it is more difficult to convey the intended tone. Many people communicate online with a degree of rudeness and meanness that they never would in a face-to-face conversation. Though face-to-face conversation isn’t always possible, recognize the serious pitfalls of written communication and write carefully with grace and respect.
5. Remain civil and be willing to agree to disagree
Civility is the ability to be polite or courteous even when you disagree with someone. The word “civility” itself is actually related to our word “citizen”. For us to function in a democratic society in which alternative views are so freely exchanged, civility is essential, but it’s something that is being lost in our culture. The sort of rudeness that has become so commonplace in our society right now is appalling. We should be able to be passionate about our views without being rude or demeaning others, especially those we claim are our friends.
I’m deeply concerned by the degree of hostility that I often see displayed in the midst of discussions about politics. How many people, I wonder, will loose friends or leave churches because of election season hostilities. The election will be over in a week, and yes, it’s an important one for the future of our country, but don’t allow Obama, Romney or any other politician or pundit to influence you in such a way that causes you to be rude and mean-spirited, especially to a fellow brother or sister in Christ.
When the election is all over, you may still loose a few friends even if you follow this advice (though hopefully not). Let’s face it people are just weird sometimes. But at least you will have conducted yourself with honor, and will have a clean conscience before God.
Having friends is not a worthy ultimate goal, but expressing a value for our friends and people in general does show a Christ-like love (or lack of it). May God revive a pure love in our hearts for all people — even those we think are completely wrong and with whom we strongly disagree.
Questions: What do you think? Do you share my concern about political hostilities?