In November 2020 there will be an election to decide the President of the United States. If recent indications are anything to go by, it will be a bitterly fought contest, with neither side giving much ground. In past years St Barnabas has steered a neutral course during election year, which is a good policy, since the church is meant to be a place of unity in Jesus Christ, whether you are liberal or conservative. The next eleven months will be a test of resilience for all and, whoever you support, it will be important to keep on the right side of sanity. So, as an aid to help you survive and even enjoy the next eleven months, I now humbly offer some do’s and don’t’s.
Do give yourself a break from the 24 hour coverage. Politics can be addictive – it can draw all your attention and create an obsessive need to know every twist and turn. Try to take time out – a whole day, sometimes, or even a week. They’ll still be at it when you return, but you will have gained a sense of perspective and some small peace.
Don’t co-opt Christ to your own political view, by saying, “if Jesus were here today, he would think and vote as I do.” Jesus was careful to avoid entanglement in political questions. In Matthew 22:15-22 the Pharisees try to trap Jesus into denying the right of the emperor to raise money by taxation – in effect, the Pharisees want him to make a statement opposing Caesar. Jesus then asks for a coin and says, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answer, “The emperor’s.” Then he says to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Unless you spend more time reading the Bible and praying than listening to politics, avoid hitching Christianity to your political wagon.
Do remember who is really in charge – it is God “who is the head of every ruler and authority.” (Colossians 2:10). Whoever wins in November, Christians know that there is a higher authority who governs the world and that ultimately we place our hope and trust in God’s providence for us and for the nation.
Don’t be a doomsayer. I’ve heard people say, “in the USA we live in dark times.” But compared to the ancient Churches of Syria and Iraq which have nearly been wiped out by persecution, or to the Christians in Nigeria, Pakistan or China, who are routinely killed or imprisoned, our country is a place of light and freedom. Of course, there are plenty of areas which need improving and reforming. The Episcopal Church has an honored role to play in serving the country through its work to alleviate poverty and bring the light of God’s message into people’s lives.
Do be charitable to those who hold different views than you. We apply this maxim to our dealings with members of other religious faiths, so why not to members of other political parties? Remember the example of the Pharisee, who goes into the temple and says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people!” (Luke 18:9-14) Whenever you exalt yourself above another, you are like the Pharisee.
Consider also what your behavior on social media says about you. Some of the worst things that humans have said about each other have appeared on social media. If charity deserts you once you are sat in front of the computer, then resist the temptation and turn away. Ask yourself, “how do I show love for my neighbor on social media?” Better still, find someone who doesn’t share your political views, arrange to meet for a coffee and strike up a friendship – there are other things apart from politics that you will have in common.
Don’t forget to vote. This privilege is denied to the majority of the world’s population, but it’s one we enjoy. Use it, and give thanks that we live in a country where the people decide their own government.
Christians are people of the light, who spread the good news of the gospel. Ultimately, this matters more than any political message or promise. As I said in a sermon on October 27 last year: “Keep the gospel message closer to your heart than the political one. Even keep that old saying, “what would Jesus do?” close to hand, and use it as often as you need. In the end, we are all children of God, loved equally and called to be healers of a divided world.”
Make peace and love your way