It’s that season again. The one where Target puts out Hallo-Thanks-Mas displays, and you start hearing comments like this around the house from your eight-year-old:
“Momma, I’m rootin’ for Mitt Romney.”
“You are? How come?”
“Cuz Zach says that Barack Obama has been out of the country too much lately.”
Not sure where this logic came from, but politics are in the air.
Four years ago, that same child asked, “John McCain is on Satan’s team, right Momma?”
“What?!!! Why would you say something like that?”
“Aren’t you voting for Barack Obama?”
“Yes, but honey…”
“Well, then John McCain is the bad guy, right?”
Oh my. I had gone to pains to protect my children from hateful political speech, or anything that might give them the impression that the two men running were anything but honorable men participating in a noble (if imperfect) system.
I’d like to think that Ezra’s assessment that the entire world can easily be categorized into good guys and bad guys (where good guys don’t log too many frequent flyer miles and never disagree with you on matters of public policy) was a developmental blip, one he would soon outgrow.
But if I want our three children to be healthy citizens in a democracy, I get little support from our culture this time of year. To be sure, I don’t get support from the secular circles in which I run; but it’s more upsetting to me when the vitriol I see comes from within my faith community. This post, then, is my plea – as a mother – for civil, Christian political discourse.
Before you get yourselves all worked up, and tell me how much Jesus just hates everything you hate and loves everything you love, before you tell me about how Jesus threw tables over in the temple when people were getting ripped off and called the religious leaders a brood of vipers, I want to tell you that I know and I understand. I feel righteous anger about many evils, and I support active responses to those evils.
So if you want to pick a fight, please go elsewhere. This is a simple plea that you would ask God to guard your words when you talk politics. Because the church you create with those words is the church I pray my children will always call home.
And I think it might help our words if we remember two things: 1) As Christians, we are all exiles, and: 2) All people are made in the image of God.
Well, duh, right? But just in case, here’s the refresher.
WE ARE ALL EXILES
New Testament writers tell us that, as Christians, we are exiles. Read 1 Peter 2:11. Or these:
“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).
Our towns, our states, and our country are not synonymous with the kingdom of God. If you live as though they are, or talk as though they are, I fear that you lose sight of the ultimate kingdom and the true king. (For more on this, you might read John Piper here.)
This is not to say that we don’t have an obligation to seek the shalom of the country in which we find ourselves. We should, as Jeremiah writes, plant gardens, grow families, and seek the prosperity of the land. Service on the school council, in the military, and in politics can be a manifestation of the shalom you extend.
But make no mistake, this is not our home. No president will save us. And, more to the point, no president can damn us. We serve a God whose hesed will not be thwarted.
In practice, what this means is that:
- You help your children love their country as the home God has given them for now, a home they are called to love and serve.
- You teach your children to respect authority, knowing that there has never been perfectly just political ruler.
- You teach your children about the role of civil disobedience without being uncivil. You can start by reading them MLK’s letter from a Birmingham jail.
- You work hard to be salt and light, without thinking that the fate of the God’s kingdom turns on the outcome of an election. It does not. If we act like it does – by pouncing on our enemy’s sins while ignoring our side’s sins, for example – we put our own spiritual lives at risk.
- We need to repent if we are happy about bad news in the world. If our reaction to jobless numbers, or acts of brutality, or humiliating revelations, is a quick calculation of how it affects the chances that “our guy” will win, we are deep spiritual trouble. I find myself here often, and good ol’ repentance is the start of the cure.
ALL PEOPLE ARE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD
What else needs to be said? So why has mockery and sarcasm and twisting the truth about a person’s decency become fashionable among Christians?
In practice, what this means is:
- If you find yourself believing that many of your brothers and sisters in Christ are hateful, red-necked hicks, check your heart…
- If you find yourself talking as though all of your African American, or Ivy-educated, or poor, or immigrant brothers and sisters are ignorant, or lazy, or less Christian than you, check your heart…
- If you find yourself talking about gay couples, Navy seals, your Muslim neighbors, or members of the other political party as though each and every one of them is a dangerous, Godless, unpatriotic liar, check your heart…
- If you find yourself talking about your mayor, governor, or president in ways that would lead your children to question your respect of them as people made in God’s image and as leaders you will humbly follow even as you work against their policies, check your heart…
- …and then ask God to start the long process of restoration.
We are told that non-believers will know us by our love. This is true of our children as well. My simple plea as a mother is this: Whether you are a pacifist or a Neocon, a Keynsian or a Classical economist, whether you are “pro-life” or “whole-life,” let your neighbors, your opponents, and your children know you by your love.