A wide contingent of Americans say they are Christians. Left and Right, they say religious beliefs inform their political ones. But do their methods reflect any spiritual or scriptural grounding?
Sticking to them. Bringing the fire. Owning them with your hot takes.
That seems to be the preferred method of engaging in public debate.
“Bring it to them before they bring it to us.” “They did it first.” “Can you believe the depths to which they will go?”
In an era where every election is the most important of our generation, we are fed octane in the conviction that we must act with ever increasing urgency. And these midterms, like the Presidential election before it, seems to be the existential battle for our collective souls.
Urgency is beneficial, but it can also give us the mistaken belief that we are free to meet society’s fire with fire. The truth is what the rest of society does isn’t the measure for the Christian.
I’m not talking about policy here. I’m talking about the how we engage in the debate and the political struggle in getting policies in place. Whether in questions of life, or immigration, the death penalty or welfare, the methods of “Christian” voters matter.
And I have some tough words for those who claim to be part of the largest religion in America.
First, let me dispense with the notion of matching methods with methods. The excuse, I see some put forth in various forms, is how can we be effective in public life if we aren’t willing to get our hands dirty? If we don’t employ the same methods, how can policies that please God ever have the chance to prevail? Don’t His ends justify employing the world’s methods? If you didn’t hear that when “Scalia’s seat” was in play, then you might be hearing it now when the call is to block Trump.
Whatever political tribe you’re in, the answer, very simply, is the call of God doesn’t care.
How many of you recall the story of Gideon and the Midianites? The book of Judges tells us about Gideon, a winemaker until charged by God with the duty to become a warrior. At the time, the Israelites were raided by the surrounding tribes, including the Midianites. In the face of meeting the Midianite soldiers and their allies (not a small number), God’s way was for Gideon to reduce his force of thousands and thousands of men. And then again, to further reduce his forces, until he was left with a measly three hundred. And the Israelites won.
When I first heard this story, it didn’t mean a whole lot to me. What does lapping water have to do with modern life? What I’ve come to realize is that this story isn’t about the methods; it’s about the trust that we don’t need to match the world.
We aren’t in an arms race with those who don’t fear God. We both have the responsibility and the freedom to follow His methods.
So what is the way of God? Quite frankly, I don’t see a command from Christ about how to live in community with people who disagree with you, as pluralistic democracy requires of us. But I think the way forward, whether religious right or progressive left, is demonstrated by God Himself: Be slow to anger. Be quick to forgive.
What does that look like in public discourse? Refraining from seeking the worst in your enemy. Trying not to divine their motives. Not dehumanizing them by taking the worst of their “tribe” and hanging it around their neck. That’s slow to anger.
Quick to forgive is finding common ground. Listening before berating. Accepting a political olive branch, even if it isn’t exactly how we’d like to see it.
Make no mistake: If you think this call for civility is a call for passivity, you wouldn’t be the first. If my Twitter DM’s are any indication, political sobriety is taken for weakness. Slow to anger, quick to forgive might be God’s way. How can that be the way to have any effect in the modern public square, where doomsday hysteria rules the day and rakes in ratings?
We are not called to be passive. Walking the Christian life in the public square requires that we should stand, we should debate, and we should walk in the type of costly discipleship that Christians have had to walk, in free societies or oppressive ones.
When we must, we should stand. But when we do, we do not do as the Midianites. When we do, we do as God commands.
So that, to paraphrase Judges, we cannot boast that our own strength, or sin, has saved us. Rather, that in all of our ways, we’ve acknowledged Him.
My question to you, whether in the last campaign or this one, is can you say you have?
If we are the country’s largest religious block, then the state of our political discourse is damning.
Jennifer Gumberl is a wife, mom, and an attorney in Southern Minnesota. I spend my free time fighting death and helping people understand how to organize their affairs at the website, An Organized (after)Life.