I love politics. I really do. But even I’m about ready for this political season to be over.
I’ve read the stories, watched the debates, heard the ads and felt the spin. Even in September, my enthusiasm for this hallowed tradition was still running strong. But you can only hear so many times that the other guy’s a jerk before you just start rolling your eyes and losing just a wee bit of hope in our political system. George Will of The Washington Post offered a great quote from Woody Allen Nov. 2: “One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
Christians should do a lot of praying this time of year. It’s a big responsibility, this voting thing. We’re asking these folks to handle some pretty hefty responsibilities, and we should be equally grave in deciding who’s the best fit for the jobs at hand.
But sometimes, I wonder whether in our zeal to select the right folks, we might go a little overboard.
When I was a religion reporter in Colorado Springs, I had a chance to cover the 2004 election, when “moral values” was (according to the exit polls) the biggest issue of the election. Evangelical voters turned out in droves to vote for George W. Bush, which helped push him to a narrow victory over Sen. John Kerry.
But during that election, I was surprised by a handful of Christians who told me a vote for Dubya didn’t just better reflect their values: Anyone who voted against him was voting against Christian values. It wasn’t just that God had a political preference (these folks insinuated): He had a vendetta against the other guy ... and the other party. Many were probably amazed that the election culminated in a vote and not a bolt of lightning.
Now, I’m all for Christians voting their values. Anyone who thinks that people of faith can somehow separate their faith from their politics—well, they don’t have a great handle on how faith is supposed to work. My beliefs filter into every area of my life, and for me, pert near everything on the docket—health care, the environment, the economy—all are “values” issues. How I think about those issues reflect my priorities, which in turn reflect my faith.
But I dunno. It feels that sometimes, we Christians can get our politics and religion a little confused. I’m not saying that God doesn’t care who wins elections … I’m just saying that, important as they are, they are “just” elections. And all the folks in ‘em are all God’s creation, whether you agree with their politics or not. And as such, they deserve our respect, if not our votes.
I just finished reading ReFocus, the new book from Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly. Now, he’s my boss (Plugged In, where I work as an entertainment reviewer, is a part of the ministry), so I hope this doesn’t sound too much like a plug. But I really appreciate his belief that Christians should be humble, even in the realm of public discourse and debate. Now, Daly’s as staunch a defender of the values evangelicals hold dear as anyone; he definitely encourages folks to take an active part in the political sphere. But he understands that the Christian faith isn’t inherently synonymous with one political party. And sometimes, during a particularly heated political season, we can all get so wrapped up in winning the argument that we forget we’re supposed to be winning hearts as well. Writes Daly (with collaborator Paul Batura):
Sometimes we might do what’s right—but for the wrong (usually selfish) reason. I am reminded of the story of the philosopher Diogenes. He was once seen sitting on a curb eating lentils and bread, a meager meal. A fellow philosopher, Aristippus, a man who lived well because he flattered the kind, approached him and mocked his circumstance. “If you would learn to be subservient to the kind,” he snarled, “you would not have to live on lentils.” Diogenes looked up with a smile, tilted his head, and replied, “Learn to live on lentils, and you will not have to cultivate the king.”
When politics and religion have grown too tightly connected to one another, the results have not always been particularly successful. I can’t help but feel that governments—all governments—are fallable, potentially falling prey to either corruption or weak leadership or any number of ailments. The Church is, I think, at its best when it stands just a bit outside the halls of power—speaking boldly to the issues of the day without the need to cultivate the king. Or, for that matter, the President.