Part 1 of series: A Christian Response to the 2008 Presidential Election
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In November 2004 I put up a short series entitled – Presidential Election Results: A Christian Response. I meant for this series to be relevant to all Christians, those who supported John Kerry and those who supported George Bush. I was searching for common ground, for affirmations that would help all believers to respond to the election in a Christian way. So that my readers would know that my thoughts were not a result of my own response to the results of the presidential race, I wrote the entire series on the evening before the election itself. I put up the whole series early so people would know that I didn’t “cheat” by shaping my comments in light of some specific result. As you may recall, the election of 2004 promsied to be very close, with some polls favoring Bush and others favoring Kerry.
I want to put up a slightly revised version of my 2004 series because I think we Christians need to be reminded of a few things with regard to our citizenship (or citizenships, actually). At the moment I write this, most pundits are predicting a victory for Barack Obama. Of course, you never know how it will turn out until the actual results are tallied. But my comments are independent of the results of the presidential election. They’ll be just as valid, in my opinion, no matter who wins tomorrow. Of course there’s always the possibility that we won’t know the victor for several weeks, as in 2000. (Photo: Truman celebrates his “loss” to Dewey. One of the great photos from American political history. It reminds us that strange things sometimes happen in political affairs.)
Whatever happens tomorrow in the presidential election, some Christians will be glad while others will be upset. I can’t remember a year in which Christians were more obviously split in their party loyalties (except, perhaps, the 1976 election). No matter what happens tomorrow, some Christians will believe that the best candidate won, while others will believe the opposite. Post-election polling will show what sort of Christians voted for which candidate. But it will still be true that a vast number of Christians will have voted for the winner while a vast number of Christians will have voted for the loser.
Yet, though our emotions and prognostications of the future may differ widely, I believe that all Christians in America can and should be united in a five-fold response to this election. I’ll explain Response #1 today, with more to come in the next couple of days.
Facet #1: We Should Act Upon the Call of Jesus to Peacemaking in the Way We Relate to Our Fellow Citizens.
We should recognize that our nation is deeply and almost evenly divided on many, many issues. The fact that one candidate won the election in no way erases this fundamental reality. Moreover, our national divisions are not only ideological, but deeply emotional. When the next president is announced, many Americans will be ecstatic, while many will be profoundly concerned about our nation’s future. Furthermore, no matter whether we’re facing the prospect of President Obama or President McCain, we can be sure that the next four years will be filled with disagreement, dissembling, and disgust as both sides continue to duke it out in the political arena.
Can anything help to heal our nation? Can anything bring us back to more civil discourse about the crucial issues in our time? Yes, I believe so. I believe that the church of Jesus Christ can help to accomplish these worthy goals. After all, Jesus himself has called us to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9), to forgive those who wrong us (Matt 6:14), to be salt and light in our world (Matt 5:13-16), and to love, not only our neighbors (Matt 22:39), but even our enemies (Matt 5:44). We who follow Jesus Christ should treat our political opponents in the spirit of Jesus even as we call others to do the same. (I’ve had much more to say about this vision for the role of the church in our nation. See my series: “The Church and Politics in America.”)
Now of course I’m well aware, sadly enough, that the church in America often contributes to the divisiveness in our land, rather than helping to heal it. Some of the most vitriolic rhetoric in this last election has come from Christian pulpits and pundits. This is tragic and wrong. Though believers should speak their convictions clearly and courageously, they should refrain from doing so in a way that is inconsistent with Christ. Perhaps before becoming peacemakers, Christians in America need to repent for the ways we have contributed to the meanness of our national discourse.
I believe that all Christians and all churches, no matter what our political leanings, need to embrace once again the call and promise of Jesus in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Added in 2008: What you’ve just read is almost word-for-word what I wrote in 2004. It seems rather scary and sad that in the 2008 election some of the rhetoric from pulpits and pundits has been even more vitriolic than in 2004. Yikes! Yet, at the same time, there were moments of hope in this recent election. I’m thinking, for example, of Rick Warren’s televised interviews of Senators Obama and McCain in The Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. This was the most sane, balanced, and insightful interchange of the whole election. Rick Warren exemplified the kind of clarifying, peacemaking role that Christians can play in our civic discourse. Of course there is certainly a time for Christians to express their divergent views, to disagree, and to promote their visions for our country. But, even then, we should do this in the manner of Christ.