The toxic commercials. The clutter of yard signs. The sensory assault of angry billboards and radio spots…
To quote a friend: Bring on the ridiculously early Christmas music and gaudy decorations. Anything is better than this!!
In fact, the only thing worse than the sensory overload of election season is the tense, carefully guarded environments that many of us navigate daily. The foreboding bog of ideology, judgment and social anxiety that makes us reluctant to enter into meaningful discourse with anyone we don’t know well (and makes us avoid even more rabidly some who we know well). Depending on what kinds of circles you find yourself in, you may have teeth marks in your tongue for weeks after the polls close.
But more and more, we do less biting of our tongues—and even less speaking of the truth—and much more sequestering ourselves into comfortable circles of like-minded people.
We don’t want to be the people whose faith is dictated by politics, and we don’t want to be mistaken for ‘those people,’ either. We want to be the people whose politics are shaped by our faith… The people who live so deeply rooted in the gospel, that the way we vote is just one more expression of our deep love for God and neighbor.
But. It’s ugly out there. It’s loud and belligerent and toxic out there. And it leads us to not really engage in conversation with people who differ from us, because our faith also tells us that hostile confrontation is not really a life-giving endeavor.
So we can either have the chronic teeth marks in our tongue, or we can join the throng of angry shouting. Those are rotten choices.
Luckily, the good news of Jesus way is always the ‘other’ way. The one that doesn’t jive with a party line or a cultural expectation.
In a series of encounters with Pharisees and the like, Jesus demonstrates that “morals” and “values,” when they come in absolutes, do more harm than good. They lead counter to the way of love. They leave little room for compassion or holy imagination. Jesus also teaches, in sermon and story, that reducing the person in front of us to their family ties, their belief, or their ideology, is sinful.
For all that we don’t know— for all that is confounding about navigating the world right now—we know those two things about Jesus. We also know that whole ‘Greatest comandments’ bit: Love God. Love neighbor. That’s at least a start.
How we take that awareness into the polls with us is another matter. Maybe what’s called for is a faith-based voter guide. Seriously. But not the kind filled with candidate’s names and voting records and pictures of unborn babies. We need something that is not steeped in ideology, but rather, seeks to value that which Jesus values; something that embodies a more life-giving kind of narrative.
A voter guide that does not prescribe behavior or name candidates; that does not dwell in ideology, legalism, or contentious rhetoric; it sounds like an impossible order. It would have to be something simple. Maybe it kind of goes like this:
- Vote your hope, not your fear. Be wary of the candidate who tries to make you afraid of something—or someONE—and then promises to protect you. Who is talking, instead, about relationship and connection? Who is telling a future story that you’d want to live in, and who is just talking about “those people over there who want to take what’s yours?” Whose story sounds more like the kingdom of God?
- Reject the myth of scarcity. If the party line is that you’ll get to hang on tighter to your stuff…you might want to stop and think about what Jesus said about hanging onto your stuff.
- Love thy neighbor’s kid as thine own. If a person, party, or line of policy is going to be good news for your kid, but bad for someone else’s, go ahead and assume that there’s nothing ‘values based’ about that.
- Think past the foreseeable future. If it lacks foresight, it isn’t faithful. If it’s not mindful of impact on the next generation, it’s probably a really, really bad idea. Good leaders have vision, and a clear desire for the good of those who will inherit the kingdom. So in other words… if it’s going to contribute to the rapid desintigration of the earth and its resources, you’ll want to go ahead and vote #hellno.
That’s it, really. 4 things. Some basic truths about being a decent human being that boil down to: love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, and trust in the basic goodness of what we’ve been given.
At the heart of all this is a harder truth: everything about our current political system runs counter to the kingdom of God. We know that right? It’s all about power, money, status quo and setting up ‘others’ in every corner of our lives…and then finding ways to sequester ourselves from whatever threat the ‘other’ du jour supposedly presents. (Ebola patients, gay couples who want to get married, or women who want equal pay? Who’s got top billing today?)
Ultimately, we can try to vote our faith: but faith and politics will be at odds as long as politics is the narrative of power.
What we can do is acknowledge that the whole system is just decidedly jacked. We are called to a higher narrative than the crass rhetoric of smear campaigns and hate speech. We are also called to a higher compassion than the one that judges and avoids those who have a different set of stickers on their car.
Maybe the only way to start shifting that narrative is to take a new one into the polls with us. And then take that new language of mercy to the neighborhoods and communities where God has placed us, for just such a time as this. It might be uncomfortable. It might even be painful. But it’s better than a tongue riddled with painful bite marks. And it’s far better than the fearful system our silence will enable.