To say that politicians are worse today than ever before is probably an indicator that we have selective memories. Politics and politicians in “the good old days” weren’t squeaky clean and didn’t always aim their blows above the belt. Moral questions go back just about as far as does the presidency, as do political scandals. The Burr-Hamilton duel; the Trail of Tears under Presidents Jackson and Van Buren; Watergate; and much more. There has been political trouble for as long as there has been politics.
But this election season seems to be more vitriolic than ever. Voters themselves seem to be reacting differently in this election. It is far from uncommon to see social media posts saying, “If you’re voting for Candidate X, you cannot be my friend.” Which is beyond disconcerting. One of the great strengths of the United States of America–arguably the great strength–is that people are entitled to their opinion. If we have not been able to agree with each other, we have historically been able to agree to disagree. It’s not simply that the first amendment protects the right to free speech. It’s that free speech flows out of free thought. One of the truly frightening things about Eastern European communism was that people could be punished on the basis of what they believed. In the United States, you are still free to say publicly that you don’t approve of a certain elected official or that you dislike the way the country is being run. But while the constitution guarantees free speech, increasing numbers of people today are tolerant only of their own point of view. Dissent might be a constitutional right, but it seems more and more people aren’t willing to extend that right to their fellow humans. And that attitude of intolerance can easily be found among people of faith. That is, even in the church.
While the media has every incentive to traffic in sensationalism and polarizing politics, the truth is that politics really isn’t that important. That is, while foreign policy, economic policy, and social policy have a direct bearing on the way society operates, the Christian stands where Jesus stood. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight… but now my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). As much as you may or may not like Candidate X or Candidate Y, presidents come and go. Some are perhaps better than others. Some are more popular than others. But the Christian remembers that she or he is not on this planet to be primarily concerned with election results. Regardless of who is voted into public office, the believer’s mandate does not change: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Anger about the political process and vilification of those who don’t share one’s views are evidence that one’s priorities are in a mess. If Christians campaigned for Jesus as energetically as some campaign for politicians, if believers posted their views about the gospel as much as they post their views about politics, the gospel might have by now gone to the world.
It’s natural to care about the way your country is being run. Entirely appropriate. But beyond a certain point, there is nothing to be gained from investing emotional energy in politics which would better be invested in sharing Christ. Translation: Whether President Donald Trump is reelected or former Vice President Joe Biden unseats him to claim the White House, the Christian’s role is unchanged. Our job is to lift up Jesus that He might “draw all peoples to” Himself (John 12:32). We have been informed that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). Followers of Jesus can’t afford to lose their focus now, election season or not. Satan hasn’t lost his focus. It is too easy to get sidetracked by good things, let alone bad. Our ability to effectively share the gospel is not enhanced by taking strident political positions. However the election result goes, things are almost certainly going to be messy. If you can’t be someone’s friend because of the way they vote, it’s time to rethink your relationship with Jesus.
As Christians, we have to be better than that.