Thoughts on Political Discourse by Christians in an Age of Social Media
While people (even Christians) disagree about many things when it comes to politics, one thing that I think most people agree upon about the current election cycle is that it is has been unique and odd. As something of an amateur presidential historian myself (I have a goal of reading a biography of every president and am probably close to ¾ towards that goal right now), I would point out that every cycle has been unique due to the historical circumstances, and many of them have been pretty messy (like smoke-filled backrooms or dozens of contested votes at a party convention picking the candidates); the combination of well-known candidates with high unpopularity rates, important national and global issues such as racial divisions and terrorism, and the rise of social media and 24-7 news cycles with competing cable news networks and the internet is what makes this like no other election before it.
What should Christians be thinking in this time and, perhaps more importantly, what are Christians living in America to do in this moment? Those are huge questions that I do not think a single blog post (or person, especially one like me who is a Bible scholar and theologian and not a political scientist) can answer, which is in part why we have a Hot Topic on Christians and Politics at Faith Church Dyer on Tuesday September 27 with guest speaker Kurt Dykstra, President of Trinity Christian College & former mayor of Holland, MI and why we have a recommended resource on the topic in terms of this book.
Next week, I’ll try to blog about some of the insights Mr. Dykstra shares at the Hot Topic night, but there are a few biblical and theological principles that I think I can offer to help us we move forward in this election season in terms of how we speak about candidates (especially when it comes to the internet!)
1. The Bible tells us to honor and pray for those in authority whether we like them or their views or policies.
The early church, living in the Roman Empire, did not have the opportunity to vote for their leaders and if they did, they likely would have been choosing between Roman officials who were not Christians and would be disfavorable to Christianity. Yet early Christian leaders, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructed Christians with words like
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3);
“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17);
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God … Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. … Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." (Romans 13:1, 5, 7).
The men the Holy Spirit moved to write these words about honoring political leaders (who were pagans) were ones that were actually persecuted and killed by the rulers that they prayed for and honored; if they can do it in their environment, we should be able to do it in ours. In fact, I love the way that Peter puts it that we are not to use our freedom as a cover-up for evil but to live as a servant of God. While he was not referring to the freedom that we know as citizens of America, I think we can think about those words in our context: I am thankful for freedom of speech in this country, but may I use this freedom to speak well of people (whom I may disagree with) and honor people rather than as a pretext to speaking ill of people.
2. The BIble tells us to view, treat, and speak about every person in a way that reflects their status as one made in the image of God.
One of the first passages that I read when I started studying Scripture was James 3, speaking about how difficult it is to tame the tongue.These words were challenging to me then and now:
With [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and saltwater? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12).
The lips that praise God on Sunday are often cursing or tearing people down during the week, at times through our fingers typing but also through conversations that we have with each other. As James says, this should not be so. People on the other side of the political aisle are made in God’s image -- we should speak in a such a way that shows love towards them. This does not mean that you cannot disagree on issues or expresses concerns, but we need to separate issues from people and move away from disdain towards others. The lips that praise God should value those who are in His image.
3. The Bible warns of the dangers of the way that we use our tongues, so we should be diligent to impart life and value to people rather than take away value and life.
In our Speak series earlier this year at Faith Church, we learned that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits" (Proverbs 18:21). Contrary to what was said on the playground, sticks and stones may break bones but words may also hurt me … and others. Now, you might say that the people we are “hurting” with sharp words are political candidates who we are likely never to meet and will never hear what we say, but I suspect that people are still hurt by how we speak about people in the political world. At the very least, we can say that the words often do not build people up like Ephesians 4:29 calls for us to do: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Even if it is not tearing someone down, we should ask if our words are building someone up, and if it is not, we should probably not say it. If we don’t have something good, helpful, or constructive to say, maybe we shouldn’t say it!
In sum, before I speak about politics in person or on the internet post anything on social media, I seek to figure it out if it is going to help build someone up and whether it shows honor and respect for all humans involved. I am sure I make mistakes at times on this, but I hope these biblical principles can help us think through how to speak about politics in a way that honors Christ and His church.
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