We live in confusing, almost circus-like times politically. As we move forward, understanding the changing cultural climate will become increasingly difficult, as will knowing how to respond biblically.
Some will shy totally away from political discussions for fear of mixing faith and politics, but I believe God wants us to understand how to engage others during this season. He doesn’t want us to draw back or check out. But we need to walk into it with the good news.
Aristotle, in his book The Politics, indicates that politics includes all the activities associated with people living and working together. That means politics is all around us, and all of the time. It plays a role in our families, businesses, friendships, and even churches.
So our faith, while personal, can never be truly or purely private. We are to live out our faith in this world, and because politics connects with just about everything, we need to know how to leverage this political season for Jesus Christ. But how?
An Old Story for Today’s America
A well-known passage from the book of Luke provides surprising insight on this issue.
A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25–29)
Jesus replies with a story.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” (Luke 10:30–35)
Next Jesus asks the man, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36). The man answers, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus then says, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Mercy just might make America great.
Who Is My Neighbor?
The religious lawyer speaking with Jesus asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Defining the word neighbor would have been particularly important. The term was (and is) sensitive and often debated because of our responsibility to live out the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Rather than answer the man’s question, though, Jesus confronts the issue from a different direction: Who is the one who acts neighborly? One question focuses on who is the right person to love; the other, who is loving rightly.
A narrow focus on the term neighbor concentrates on a select few people. The religious lawyer likely thought it meant those geographically, religiously, and even politically similar — the people with whom he naturally shared life. But to act neighborly shifts the focus onto loving rightly all people. “All people” is the resounding answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The core issue then becomes not so much about other people and their beliefs but rather who we are, the condition of our hearts, and how we speak and act toward others.
Are we, as Christians, known for being neighborly — for consistently, intentionally, and generously loving our neighbors — even while our nation elects officials we do not trust and trends in directions that alarm us?
In conversations about candidates, policies, and platforms, we should follow Jesus’s example, and ask good questions to try and understand the reasons for our neighbors’ deeply held beliefs. Make an effort to understand how they came to their conclusions and convictions, and then reason with a respectful attitude. Put on the impartial compassion of a Good American.
Three Lessons for Dialogue
First, examine your fears about the world and how that may affect your reaction to others’ viewpoints, especially non-Christian ones. Lots of Christians harbor fear about this world, and understandably so. The New Testament, though, indicates that Christianity actually thrives under pressure and persecution. Our lights shine brighter in dark environments. So, be the grace-and-truth light. Don’t shrink back in fear.
Second, don’t assume everything rests on your opinions. This political season is not about us. We kneel before the throne and submit our preferences, opinions, and purposes to Almighty God. It is all about him. Keep your focus on Christ because there is ultimately only one King and one kingdom.
Third, pay attention to your confirmation bias, which basically boils down to getting stuck in your beliefs about others without really knowing the facts. Everybody does this — we’re human. We never know the whole story, and yet we’re often quick to judge a person or situation. Instead, pay attention with genuine interest. Be relentlessly curious and compassionate — “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).