“The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up — ever — trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?” Terry Tempest Williams
“I don’t usually post about politics…” I’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts lately, that begin with those words. I understand it, but still I want to say to them, Thank you for finally engaging the conversation! It’s difficult to talk about politics, especially in a public forum like social media. But, we don’t get an out when it comes to politics. I think it was Parker J. Palmer who pointed out that social media may be a good place to start a conversation about politics, but it’s not necessarily the best forum for extended conversations about politics. It’s true. Conversations about politics have the potential to devolve, the longer the thread extends down our Facebook pages.
But, regardless of its efficacy, people are having the conversation on Facebook. Whatever you may think about that, it’s worth noting that our mandate to be salt and light extends to every venue in which we find ourselves.
Somewhere along the way, we got the impression that it’s not polite to talk about religion, or sex, or politics in the company of others. But, in the company of others is exactly where we practice our religion, our sexuality, and our politics. Not to mention the fact that our decisions in each of these areas impact others, every single day. We don’t want to be offensive, we say. We don’t want to have to defend ourselves, we argue. Because we have pretty much driven a stake into the ground when it comes to these issues, and we’ve hammered that stake in with the gigantic bible we hold in our hand and then we’ve tied an American flag to that stake.
We don’t have to be politicians, but letting fear of a different opinion, or of being challenged, or of being laughed at is not a good excuse for people of faith to exit the public discourse. Even the fear of a changing world that may not include the comforts and the safety and the lifestyle to which we’ve grown accustomed is not an excuse for exiting the public conversation.
When I was about twelve years old, I asked my youth pastor a question. I don’t know what the question was, but I do remember his answer. He told me, “You’re assuming America will always exist as a country.” It was a brilliant answer and, what I believe my youth pastor was encouraging in me was a realization of my true citizenship. While my passport is issued by the United States government, I am — ultimately — a citizen, an ambassador, and an advocate of the Kingdom of God. And so are you.
We forget this. We forget to look up. Or, when we do look up it’s in the hope that God will rescue us out of the craziness instead of walking us through it, as agents of peace and reconciliation — as salt and light. We are partners with Christ in the restoration of this world. We are called to help push back the darkness and make way for the light. But, we have heard these marching orders and responded to them by adopting the strategies of the kingdoms of this world. We become combative and we pick and choose sides and we clamor to be first and we puff out our chests and we strive to be the greatest. All this, in spite of the fact that Jesus clearly taught that the last shall be first, and those who live by the sword (whether the lashings we hand out with our words, or the physical violence we advocate) will die by it.
Our identity is not in a political party. It is not in a certain bill. It is not in the Constitution or any of its Amendments. Our identity is not in our earthly citizenship. We may have strong feelings about abortion or climate change or health care or immigration, but these issues do not define us. If my feelings about racism or same-sex marriage or a political candidate or gun control prevent me from viewing anyone with anything other than compassion and love, then I am in the wrong and I’ve allowed my position on an issue to trump my loyalty to Almighty God.
There is no guarantee that our country will stand the test of time, or that our democracy will hold up under pressure. After all, democracy is a great experiment, and we haven’t been perfect. Terror is terror, no matter how you color it, label it, or categorize it and we have not been exempt from inflicting terror on others, regardless of how terror is defined. So, how do we love God in the midst of a culture in which others, even people of faith, disagree with our view of the world and the people in it? The answers to that question, when taken at face value, seem dangerously and illogically strange:
Yes, And… When you hear yourself wondering, “I don’t understand how anyone can support __________,” consider that thought a cue to actually investigate the question. It’s so much easier to brush someone aside or write them off when their political viewpoint is different from yours. Instead, listen to the arguments from the other side, with an ear to understanding how they got there. When someone states something with which you disagree, instead of mounting your defense with links and three-point rebuttals, adopt a posture that says, “Yes, and…” In other words, hear them out, just as you’d hope someone would hear you out.
Be clear about your citizenship: We are not here to advance a particular political agenda. That’s where the Pharisees and the disciples got hung up. Everyone was looking for a Messiah who would utilize power through the political systems of the day to subdue the world and, by extension, make his followers famous, right, and great. Our mandate is love. While we live in this world as voters and politicians and parents and students and entrepreneurs and teachers and farmers and physicians and artists and engineers, our mandate is love. We exercise that love through the work we do, the votes we cast, the conversations we engage, the people we serve. Sometimes things will go well for us, and sometimes they won’t. But that doesn’t mean God has left us. Our ultimate citizenship is the Kingdom of God, and not a country on the map. That citizenship links us with every single person in every single country on this earth, and our mandate is to love them all. Period. No exceptions.
Stay spiritually engaged: It’s easy to check out of the process. We become fearful or worried or weary or uncaring, and so we throw up our hands and throw in the towel. But, remember Esther? Queen Esther faced much more than an argument on Facebook when she decided to go to the King to save her people. She did not march in and demand something from the King. Instead, with prayerful humility, the Queen called for a fast. For three days and three nights, the Jews abstained from eating and drinking. At the end of the fast, the Queen invited the King and his advisor to a banquet. Imagine that! What if we followed that example? What if, instead of taking sides against one another, we joined forces together to fast for our country, for our world, and for our communities? Can you even imagine it? The options available to us are many, and they include prayer and fasting — individually, and as the Body of Christ, regardless of party affiliation, class, culture, race, or language. But, when we’re distracted by fear or anger or worry or doubt, we resort to our base reactions of fighting and polarization. In the chaos, the whisper of the Spirit of God is drowned out and we lose our saltiness and our light is snuffed out.
As citizens of the Kingdom of God, our weapons are not the weapons of this world. Paul said it like this:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
When we think about politics from the perspective of our true citizenship — a citizenship that is not threatened by talk of walls or bombs or vetoes or electoral votes — we are better equipped to talk about politics in a way that welcomes transformation, reconciliation, and restoration. When we find ourselves willing to lay down our lives because of the Kingdom of God, we open the way for love to rise to the top and our allegiances to earthly trappings will fall away. When we recognize that our mandate to love extends beyond the shores of our nation, we understand the truth that our hope is not in the rulers of this world. Our political discourse, as people in the world but not of it, elevates the conversation, embraces those with whom we disagree, and extends beyond our desire to be right and comfortable and safe.
I don’t write this as someone who practices it well. But I do believe it. I believe people of faith — faith that sets us free from the need to maintain a certain lifestyle or country or opinion — have a voice that needs to be heard in the political discourse. Not as people who hold unswervingly to a position or an agenda or even a nation. Especially not when the things we’re holding onto make us unable to love — truly love — our neighbors and our enemies. As long as we’re distracted by fear or worry or anger or lack of concern, we will never be able to come together and exercise our faith in ways that push love into the brokenness, or light into the darkness.