So now the primaries are officially over and we have a contest between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the Presidency of the United States. Inevitably, American Christians will fall on one side or the other in what will likely be a long, divisive, tough campaign to the end. So, how should we as followers of Christ act during election season? This isn't the last word and it isn't an exhaustive list, but here are a few things we might consider:
1) Remember to be grateful for the election. As Americans, we live in a representative republic, so we have the rare opportunity to shape our government. Partisanship and politics can be wearying and noisy and half-crazy at times, but at least we have the freedom to express ourselves and to vote. This isn't happening in most countries around the world. So just at the point when you're tired of looking at political signs and a bit weary of the sloganeering, remember those dissidents who sit in jail cells around the world, merely for having an opposing thought. We have a stewardship to vote, granted by God, and we should use it responsibly.
2) Don't put your trust in chariots. Be grateful for the opportunity to elect the president you feel will best lead our country. But don't fall into the trap that everything in history and in your life depends on one rainy Tuesday in November. Don't be a practical atheist, white-knuckling election night, sweating every ebb and flow of the season, and acting as if you need to build a fortified bunker if "the wrong guy wins." Advocate and work for your guy, but put your trust in the Lord. God holds history in the palm of his hand and is not at all worried sick about which party controls the levers of power in America.
3) Ignore most of the political appeals you hear from both sides. To win in modern American politics, you have to paint the other guy as something a combination of an axe murder, a village idiot, and a helpless puppet. You have to dig for an scent of scandal, blow it up in an ominous, black-and white ad, and convince people that if this guy wins you might as well move to Canada. Both sides will do this. But the truth is somewhere in between. It is a good idea to periodically tune out the election news during election season, toss those pesky mailers, and hang up your phone when you hear the gravel-voiced narrator begin his robo-calls of doom.
4) Advocate issues, avoid the petty stuff. It's amazing how easily campaigns delve into petty stuff like how many vacations the President takes, the color of the First Lady's dress, and the habits of the candidates while in high school. Vote for a guy because he holds positions closest to yours. Advocate issues of importance and weight. Resist being drug into the gutter and arguing for or against issues that have little or no consequence.
5) Avoid the "ends-justifies-the-means" of politics. When President Bush was in office the left smeared him unfairly, comparing him to Hitler and tarring him as a war criminal. This was unfair. So now that President Obama is in office, many on the Right feel what was good for one side is good for the other. "All is fair in love and war," we say. This is true ... unless you happen to be a follower of Christ and you're commanded, repeatedly, to measure your words, to be kind, to love, to speak truth. Remember that even in politics, you are to act and talk like a Christian.
6) Don't let your political differences ruin friendships. It is easy to allow political differences to drive a wedge in important friendships. But we must prize our love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord and our friendships with those outside the faith, above the strong opinions we hold. That doesn't mean we back down, it means we find a way to get along with people with whom we disagree. Friendships within and without the church are vital for gospel ministry. Don't let the temporal of politics get in the way of the eternal.
7) Don't fall for conspiracy theories. Don't forward emails that are less than true or haven't been verified by reputable sources. Its easy to want to believe the worst about our political enemies, but God calls us to believe the truth (1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 4:8). Don't post on Facebook or Twitter questionable stories or theories. As Christians we should be about truth.
8) Don't allow politics to convince you to hate those whom Jesus has called you to love. Politics likes to divide things up nicely into good guys and bad guys, to see the "other side" as the enemy. If you read enough political blogs and listen to talk radio and watch enough cable news, you will soon develop a mentality that sees only those who agree with you as good people and the rest as enemies. Furthermore, it clouds the real battle. We're told in Scripture that people are not the enemy, Satan is. And our fight is never against mere mortals, but part of a larger, worldwide spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6:2). Plus, if you convince yourself to hate certain segments, how then can you lovingly reach them with the good news of the gospel?
9) Avoid the "out there" mentality. The weakness of political engagement is that it lends itself away from self-reflection. The partisan mind constantly thinks all the worst problems in the world are "out there." The gospel, however, forces us into sober self-reflection. It reminds us that the real problem is inside, in our own depraved hearts. The Apostle Paul, who lived under the oppression of a wicked and tyrannical government, said "I am the chief of sinners." He didn't point to Nero. He said, "No, I'm the biggest problem." It's easy to blame Hollywood, Wall Street, and the media for all of our woes, but if we were honest and allowed the gospel to penetrate our hearts, we'd realize that we are our own worst enemies.
10) Look for a better city. Politics is driven by a God-given longing for utopia, a desire for perfection, by the dawning reality that life on this earth is not how it should be. Politicians come along and promise to fix things, to build that utopian dream we all desire. The problem is that politicians are flawed. They are not saviors. And this world is cursed by sin. So like Abraham, we must look for another city, whose "builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:1). One day Christ will return as reigning King and will set up the ultimate, perfect Kingdom.