Last year, a group of indigenous church planters from India visited a local church near where I live to share about ministry in their home country. At the time, a major election was looming in India. The governing party elected in 2014 had embraced strong nationalistic convictions that threatened the rights and freedoms of Christians in that part of the world. Hindu radicals tore down church buildings, raided Christian homes, and even murdered believers on occasion with little to no consequences. If India were to install a new governing party, followers of Christ in India would find protective relief from the state.
One of the local church leaders asked the church planters how they were praying for the upcoming election. They answered, “We’re praying for the current party’s reelection so that persecution will continue and the body of Christ will thrive.”
Today, we are less than a month away from Election Day in the U.S. Can you imagine praying that the “wrong” candidate would get elected so that the church would thrive at your own personal expense? Are you willing to? I’ve found myself regularly convicted by that question over the last year, especially when it comes to my political engagement.
As I participate in the political process, am I prioritizing my witness? Are you?
Scripture hasn’t called us to be evangelists—though evangelism is a crucial part of the Christian life—but witnesses to Jesus Christ, and that is a duty we carry out not merely with our words, but in every part of life from our service and generosity to the way we suffer.
The same is true of our political engagement. Whether it’s through social media, participation at a town hall, canvassing for a candidate, volunteering as a pollster, or running for office, your witness is showing.
More than likely, you’ve decided who you’ll be voting for in this election cycle. My goal is not to convince you otherwise, but to encourage you in the direction of a vibrant witness through your political engagement long beyond November 3rd. Here are some ways to do that:
Prioritize your neighbor. Christ calls his followers not to a political persuasion, but to disciple making. As such, we ought to view politics as a tool for serving others, all in the name of drawing them to the beauty of our savior. How do your convictions affect your neighbors? Those less fortunate than you? Those who look different than you? When we reduce our politics to a matter of keeping a certain candidate or ideology out of office, we replace our call to make disciples with a self-focused need for power. Make the Greatest Commandment the lens through which you filter your politics.
Do not fear. For the last few months, my timeline has been filled with Christians warning of the country’s demise if [insert candidate name] gets elected. If the “wrong” candidate wins, the democratic system will topple, religious liberty will dissolve, violence will reign . . . the list goes on. But fear cannot be our political motivation. Our faith teaches that when we trusted in Christ, God adopted us as his own to spend eternity in his presence rather than face the judgment we deserved for our sin. Because of that, we have nothing in this world to fear. Through faith in Christ, our worst day will never come. Resist the fear mongering so common in politics today. Instead, engage with an attitude of hope, even if it’s hard to come by. Fear-driven politics will never draw others to Christ, but hope is infectious.
Speak wisely. The internet offers instant access to information and analysis. In doing so, it has made it easier for us to oversimplify topics that require nuance. 2020 has been marked by a number of buzzwords: white supremacy, Marxism, critical race theory, to name a few. These are complex issues that require far more than 280 characters and a hastily written blog to explain. Avoid using buzzwords unless you thoroughly understand their meaning. And don’t accuse someone else of advocating an ideology they have not expressly articulated. These are matters of truth, and as Christ followers we must be committed to truth in all areas of life. Ask questions. Do your homework. Grow comfortable with the phrase, “I don’t know.” It’s freeing.
Humanize your politics. Politics are a means to an end, and that end is the human beings affected by them. Bear that in mind when it comes to your convictions. As you do, seek out those you disagree with and ask about their views. Try to understand where they’re coming from. Your conservative neighbor may not be a racist after all. Your liberal coworker might not, in fact, be a radical Marxist. You’ll never know as long as they remain a caricature in your mind. Befriend people who believe differently than you. Doing so will broaden your perspective, strengthen your credibility, and remind you of the human being on the other side of the aisle.
Pray for your “enemies.” Over the summer, a writer I admire challenged her readers with this question: “If you don't have a list of enemies you pray for, are you even praying?” Behind our computer screens, there’s no accountability for how we act on the internet. It’s as easy as a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse to compose a snarky tweet or Facebook post that vilifies an opponent. Who’s going to stop you? But how would your perspective change if you regularly prayed for those you disagree with, especially those whom you despise for their beliefs? How would the way you talk about them change? What about the way you talk with them? Praying for our enemies is not a suggestion; it’s a command from Christ himself. And it can radically transform the way we engage with those who do not share our values.
No one can say with certainty how long the United States of America will endure. It may last another ten, hundred, or thousand years, but one day it will fade into the backdrop of history just like every other nation that has—and will—exist. We should not seek to usher its end, but as Christians we should live with a higher aim.
Your life is a megaphone that declares what you worship. Speak, post, debate, protest, and vote, but do so with your allegiance to Christ on full display. Let the hope and peace of God fuel your politics. Prize faithfulness over power. Be willing to lose to make much of Jesus. And don’t cater to caricature or conspiracy. Instead, love your country by longing for a better one, that heavenly one to which you belong that draws closer with each passing day.
Cover image by Parker Johnson.