If you’re like me, you’re appalled at what the 2016 election season has revealed–not just about the state of our political system, but about who we have become. And when I say “we,” I mean this fairly personally. Sure, I’m scratching my head over the foolishness of people who seek to lead our nation. But I’m far more disturbed at the extremism of our electorate. And I’m most profoundly grieved by the words and behaviors of many people who call themselves Christians.
This is not a faith-bashing post. I don’t think Christians are worse than anyone else, nor do I think faith is the problem here. I simply believe that we who claim to follow Christ and declare that we place our hope in him ought to act like it. And we should, at the very least, display a desire to live as he told us to live. Our lives ought to be marked by peace, and our choices by love. We should, on the whole, show strength and courage in a world that looks exactly as Jesus told us it would look. Instead, far too many of us are cowering in fear of losing what is precious to us. And people who are overcome by fear are easily controlled by impulses to behave in our own self-interest.
I’ll admit I am allergic to politics. I have always been registered as an independent, and as a rule I try to avoid not only political parties, but campaign ads, political propaganda, debates, and everything else designed to win my vote (or simply designed to foment fear and hatred). I have no interest in hearing anyone tell me whom to vote for. But it’s impossible to miss the mess we have made for ourselves. And much of what I have seen from outspoken Christian leaders, advocating for a candidate, has been decidedly selfish, endorsing someone on the basis of what is likely to make us feel safe and right at home in this world that is not, ultimately, our true home. Since when did we feel called primarily to keep ourselves safe? To hold onto power or prosperity no matter what it costs the people around us? To promote Christian morality at the cost of Christlike behavior, to protect our own interests regardless of the suffering of others?
I believe Jesus would have us do something different.
I have spent much of this election year feeling paralyzed by indecision, horrified by the choices taking shape before me. It’s easy to feel there’s no good choice here. At a time when a person’s conscience is so thoroughly offended, it’s hard to follow that conscience. So what if we took a page out of our own book and approached voting purely as a way to love our neighbors and bless our enemies?
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus taught (Mark 12:31), echoing the law of Moses. This is the second-greatest commandment, after the one that calls us to acknowledge, worship, and love God with everything we have. And he took it much farther: “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (Luke 6:27-31). These days, more than ever, our neighbors look different from us. They live in our own communities and on the other side of the world. We feel dangerously exposed to the hatred of our enemies. We Americans have never had a better opportunity to put Jesus’ words into practice in our political lives.
Too many of us love our own lives–and not only our lives, but our creature comforts–more than we love our neighbors. Too many of us are living in fear, unwilling to love our enemies or pray for them. What if we all cast ballots this fall with the primary motives of loving our neighbors and blessing those who curse us? I’m not naive enough to believe that following these commands will lead us all to the same candidate. And I have no interest in trying to convince you to vote for anyone in particular. But I believe that if we are guided by love and the common good, rather than fear and self-interest, we will serve as far better representatives of a kingdom that is not of this world. And our attitudes will do more good than any election could accomplish.
© 2016 Amy Simpson.