Private Vote, Public Witness

My friends are walking away from faith.

Whew. That’s hard. Hard to see, hard to talk about, hard to write.

Overwhelmingly, the conversation about their exile from Christianity is centered not around a disillusionment with Jesus, but around His followers; not around His words, but around ours; not around His laws, but around the rules that have seemingly been added on by us. And so, in many ways, I understand. And I don’t blame them, though I wish they could stay.

So this post is more love letter than lament; more exhalation than condemnation. It’s to the church – those of us who, no matter denomination, cultural or ethnic background, political party, or location, claim Jesus as Lord. It’s full of hope for what could be, and encouragement for what we could show the world. And it’s centered around our political engagement, since 1 in 4 cite politics as a main reason for their leaving.

Church, we need a better witness right now.

In the middle of an already divisive season, our voice has often been used more to mock our political opponents than provide Biblical witness to policy specifics. Our memes have simplified complex issues into soundbites. We’ve engaged in Facebook battles where we’ve diminished the image of God in others—friends, family, and strangers—by name calling, rough language, and dismissive attitudes. Rather than reach across the aisle, we’ve built higher walls.

We’ve become more known for what we’re against than for what we’re for; we’ve drawn our partisan lines and called those who disagree ‘heretics;’ we’ve contributed to brokenness instead of healing it.

And for those things, we lament. We lament that, in the middle of partisan battles, we’ve provided a witness to the world of a broken, divided, divisive church. We lament that people have left the church, not because they’ve lost Jesus, but because we’ve lost them. We lament that we’ve failed to consider that there’s more at stake when we speak publicly.

Our vote is private. But our witness is public. And so, what are some overriding principles for us this political season?

How We Talk About Our Political Opponents Matters

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:8–10 ESV)

In a season marked by conspiracy theories and memes fact checked as false, there’s an opportunity for Christians be even more cautious when it comes to spreading false information, demonizing our political opponents, simplifying complex issues, and sharing soundbites over substance.

In Scripture, followers of Jesus are repeatedly called to exercise wisdom over all things, but especially over our tongues (see James 3). When we intentionally engage in lying about our opponents or exaggerating our claims about them, when we spread misinformation or engage in baseless conspiracy theories that have no grounding in reality, we sully our credibility and dishonor others’ right to have the truth told about them.

In this season, we should not only do our own fact-checking to ensure we’re spreading truthful, honest, and helpful information, but we should be the first to repent, apologize, and delete when information we thought was true is proven to be false.

How We Talk To Our Political Opponents Matters

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-24 ESV)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is terrible advice made up by someone who was probably trying to convince themselves it was true despite all evidence to the contrary. Our words matter. What we say to one another – whether in person or online – reveals the state of our heart and hits to the core of someone’s identity, so we ought to be cautious what we say.

This is especially true when it comes to what we say when we disagree with one another. When Jesus, in Matthew 5, was taking the words of the Torah and bringing them into fulfillment, He took the passage on murder and extended it to say that even insulting a brother (or sister) by calling them a fool was akin to engaging in physical murder. Why?

Our words divide relationships, plant seeds of doubt, and speak against what we know to be true – that all people are made in God’s image and are worthy of being treated as such. Because we’re called to a higher standard than the world at large, we’re called to correct misinformation, share an opposite view, or ask good questions without name calling, degrading, belittling, or mocking. We owe one another a reminder of their dignity and identity, not a diminishing of it.

Who We Vote For Matters

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV)

While there are no perfect politicians, there are minimum standards for that the Bible points to when it comes to evaluating good leaders: wisdom, as demonstrated in words and actions; an ability to listen to wise counsel and associates; self-control; ones ability to make peace instead of stirring up conflict; hating evil and pursuing good; and an attitude of humble servanthood, among others.

In an essay, Michael Austin, the former president of the Evangelical Philosophy Society, wrote: “Humility is a central virtue for leaders, because it restrains the ego, undermines the vice of pride, and sets the stage for many other virtues. A lack of humility in any person, especially a person of power, should never be taken lightly. This is especially true for those of us who follow Jesus, the paradigm example of humility.”

Ignoring character for the sake of political expediency is foolish. If we wouldn’t be comfortable with our children mimicking the words and actions of our leaders, that’s a damning judgement on their character. Voting is one way that we hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions; being able to speak prophetically into politics as they happen is another.

Our vote doesn’t just endorse a platform, it endorses a person. Who we vote for matters.

What We Vote For Matters

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40 ESV)

As followers of Jesus, we’re invited into a backwards kingdom where the first are last and the last are first, and we’re invited to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Taking that one step further, Paul invites us to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV).

Our vote, therefore isn’t only concerned with our needs and the needs of our immediate neighborhood, but also the needs of those that are most vulnerable. Scripture regularly points to specific groups: widows, orphans, those in prison, immigrants and refugees, the poor. Scripture also points us toward being people of reconciliation and justice, which means, in this season, that our vote is also concerned with such matters.

For most of us, this is a reorientation in our voting practice (it was for me!). But this is also an invitation to practice humility and show concern for our neighbor. It doesn’t negate us from personal responsibility, but adds one more way by which we work for the good of our neighbors – and not just the ones that live next to us.

So this is an invitation. An invitation to practice discipleship in our political engagement – to truly believe that our voice and our vote in this season can be a representation of Christ to a world that desperately needs to see Him. Our vote may be private, staying between us and the ballot box (or envelope). But our witness? We don’t get an opportunity to keep that private. That’s about as public as it gets.

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