Political season is a challenging time for Christians—or at least, it should be.
The American political system is unique in many ways. Much of this uniqueness is good and worthy of respect and even admiration at times. However, the American political system is also unique in the divisive way it separates Christians from one another. As I travel the world and talk to people from other cultures, particularly Christians, I experience a consistent confusion from our brothers and sisters who watch us from afar, and cannot wrap their heads around our relationship to secular politics.
Since as a Christian I believe our allegiance should be to the Kingdom of God and the principles that govern it, and think it would be wise to pause and consider principles of Kingdom living during an election year. I previously offered 5 Things Christians Should Remember This Election Cycle, but believe there are more principles worth exploring. So, here are 5 more things we might want to consider:
5. Remember that political affiliation is not a litmus test to who is, and who is not, a true Christian.
I know Christians who are loyal Republicans. I also know Christians who are loyal Democrats. I know Christians who are neither. While they each have areas where they are likely right on some issues, and while all of them have some things completely wrong, the one thing these friends have in common is that I know they love Jesus.
There is no political litmus test to who is or is not a true Christian—it would be utterly impossible to judge someone’s heart by which political party they tend to side with. As Christians, while I hope we will discuss issues and advocate for the positions of love and mercy, we must avoid the strong lure of becoming the gatekeepers of Christianity, as if someone gave us the power to declare who is in or out.
I don’t have that power, and neither do you.
4. Remember that we are not to be placing our hopes in the hands of a political candidate– and that we shouldn’t place our fears in one either.
I believe the Bible is straightforward on this: God does not want us placing our trust in political leaders. Neither are we to be placing our trust in having a large military. Instead, God wants us to place our trust in God alone—anything less is a form of idolatry.
However, there’s a side to this that I believe is often overlooked: fear. While placing too much hope in a political leader is obvious idolatry, placing too much fear in a political candidate can be a form of idolatry as well. As the people of Jesus, we are called to “fear not” because fear has a way of casting out love. Certainly we can, and should sound the alarm bell when there is danger on the horizon, but when we give into our fears it reveals a lack of trust in God just as much as when we transfer our hope for the future to a political candidate. They’re opposite sides of the same coin, and we must remember to place all of our hope and trust in God.
3. Remember that we can do our job no matter who is or who is or who is not president.
I am continually surprised at the number of fellow Christians who have a tendency to panic about political wins or losses, as if the mission of the Church depends on who is in power. Let me be clear: it doesn’t.
There is no political force that can stop the mission of the Church. No one can stop you from feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. Government cannot even stop us from growing the Church—just look at China. Government oppression has led to an increase in Christianity, not a decrease. In fact, China is on pace to become the largest Christian nation in the world, and that may happen even in my lifetime.
We don’t need the government to do it for us, and the government cannot stop us—so we need not panic, because our mission will go on.
2. Remember that people are more important than positions.
One of the things that always draws me back to Jesus is how he put people first– even before positions and theology. This got him in all sorts of trouble with the religious gatekeepers, because putting people first meant that he was friends with a lot of people the crowd said he shouldn’t associate with.
This is precisely what made the message of Jesus so inviting: he didn’t insist on being in complete agreement with people in order to have a meaningful relationship with them. Instead, he showed a love that transcended camps and categories and that went beyond our instinctive bend towards tribalism.
The way American Christians sever relationships with one another over secular political views is a unique scourge we cannot ignore.
1. Remember that Jesus said we should be known by how well we love each other.
In the end, Jesus was pretty clear: the ultimate evidence of whether one is, or is not, a disciple of his, is determined by how well one loves. “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples: that you love one another.”
That means loving the people in your own political camp– but it also means loving people in the other political camp too, wherever that may be.
As Christians, we’re known for many things– but according to Jesus, if we’re not known by how well we love each other, nothing else matters.
This election cycle, however one chooses to participate (or not participate), I pray that we will take a moment to rethink how Jesus is inviting us to live. May we refrain from judging who is in and who is out, may we resist the urge to give too much hope or harbor too much fear, may we remember the task set before us, may we remember the importance of people, and most importantly: may we remember to love.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.