“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” (Linus, from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”)
In my line of work, I can’t avoid discussing the first of Linus’ three taboo subjects. It comes with the territory. Pumpkins — great or small — are thankfully not a topic of conversation outside of the Halloween season. However, it is topic number two — politics –that I can’t escape from, even within the church. In fact, with the government shutdown now entering its second week, there has been no shortage of conversations — both in person and on Facebook — about when the latest political playground spat will end.
Regardless of what one thinks of the Ted Cruz/Tea Party-inspired strategy which precipitated the shutdown (for the record, I am not in favor of said strategy), it does not appear that the shutdown will be ending anytime soon. For many Americans, including military families and civilian military contractors, the shutdown’s consequences — both intended and unintended are real and, in many cases, painful.
In the congregation I serve, there are numerous families who have been directly affected by the shutdown. No work for civilian contractors means no pay. The commissary on base has been closed for almost a week, forcing many Air Force families to drive into town to do their weekly grocery shopping. While our local Wal-Mart can handle the crowds, the added cost for gas and groceries places unnecessary burdens on already-burdened military families. My next-door neighbor and another neighbor down the street in Cloudcroft, both of whom work for the National Park Service in the Lincoln National Forest, are both furloughed. While politicians vie for who will be “king of the hill,” hard-working Americans are sitting at home, waiting for OUR President, OUR Senators and OUR Representatives to do the job they were sent to Washington to do — LEAD. Sadly, leadership in every branch of government and in both political parties is sorely lacking.
With such a dearth of leadership, it’s no wonder that political discourse is at one of the lowest levels in our nation’s history. With Democrats accusing Republicans of taking America hostage and waging “Jihad” against the United States and with Republicans attacking President Obama as one who would rather negotiate with America’s enemies than with his political opponents, we are witnessing the rise of uncivil, ungracious communication, not just in the halls of Congress, but in neighborhoods throughout America.
Despite the heated rhetoric coming from the mouths of politicians, we are still no where near the low levels of political discourse that characterized our country in the first part of the 19th Century. Many want to believe that “dirty politics” is of recent vintage, but the truth of the matter is that negative political attacks have always been a part of our history. In the Presidential Election of 1800, pitting President John Adams against his own Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, the vitriol became quite personal:
John Adams is a blind, bald crippled toothless man who secretly wants to start a war with France. While he’s not busy importing mistresses from Europe he’s trying to marry one of his sons to a daughter of King George III. John Adams is a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman. (Negative Ads Against John Adams)
Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes. Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames? Female chastity violated? Children writhing on the pike? Jefferson is the son of a half-breed Indian squaw raised on hoe-cakes. (Negative Ads Against Thomas Jefferson)
Christians, no matter where we find ourselves on the political spectrum, should never sink to the level of our pagan culture when it comes to talking about politics, government, and our nation. At times like these in our nation’s history, with tempers flaring in Washington and in our neighborhoods, believers should be salt and light in the midst of political and governmental darkness. Therefore, when we communicate, especially with unbelievers, about politics, government, and our nation, our speech should be characterized by grace and truth with the right answer at the right time. For some (including me), this area of communication will challenge us like no other area because we are witnessing a nation — and many within our government — rapidly abandoning Biblical principles and values.
Gracious (and civil) communication should be practiced by everyone (Christian and non-Christian alike). When communicating about politics, government, and our nation, there are at least three (and many others which I won’t cover in this post) Biblical truths to remember. For those who are from a non-Christian background, I hope that you at least find the third and final truth profitable in your online and face-to-face discussions in the future.
While many, both inside and outside of Washington, D.C., seem to have a “the sky is falling” mentality, Christians should remember that no matter what happens in our Nation’s Capital, God is and always will be the supreme authority in heaven and on earth! God has chosen to rule in and through His Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 2:9-10). Therefore, all human authority — including our own government — is ultimately submissive to God’s authority in Christ. (Romans 13:1)
What does that mean for believers? Simply this. That those who are in Christ — under His Lordship and Authority — do not need to fear anything, including politicians or the government. Christ is in control and He will provide everything that we need, whether or not the government approves it or not.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:19)
When others are talking about how “out-of-control” Washington is and how our nation will collapse (it will, but it won’t be because of a government shutdown), Christians should be calm, cool, and collected. God’s got it under control. After all, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
The second truth to remember is that believers are called to live as citizens of the heavenly kingdom even while living as citizens of an earthly kingdom. Our citizenship is permanent in heaven, but temporary here. We are just a passin’ through! (Ephesians 2:19-22; Philippians 3:20-21) Our heavenly citizenship should guide us in how we talk and act about earthly things, including politics, government, and our nation. That does not mean that we have to give up any “earthly” rights that we may have been granted as a citizen of the United States of America. After all, the Apostle Paul did not give up his rights as a citizen of the Roman Empire, even going so far as to appeal his case directly to Caesar. (Acts 22:22-29; Acts 25:7-12)
We have been given far more rights as citizens of this American Democratic-Republic than Paul ever would have dreamed possible as a citizen of the Roman Empire. One of our greatest rights, which is enshrined as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, says this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In exercising these rights (and others), we should remember the third truth of communicating graciously about politics, government, and our nation: Speak and Act reasonably and persuasively when communicating (particularly with unbelievers). Christians are called to let our “reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Philippians 4:5) In fact, we are to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:13-17)
Of course, as Indigo Montoya of “The Princess Bride” might say, “I don’t think it (reason/reasonableness) means what you think it means.” The modern concept of “reason” or “reasonableness” is an intellectual argument divorced from Biblical truth. In fact, using Biblical truth in any dialogue in today’s culture (think abortion and homosexuality) makes one automatically unreasonable. However, when the Bible talks about “reason” or “reasonableness,” it means being gracious and truthful, knowing how to give just the right answer at just the right time. Believers should always be ready to give a “reason for the hope that lies within you” — the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
In addition to speaking reasonably, we are also called to speak persuasively. (Acts 26:24-32) Regardless of your religious background, everyone can and should speak persuasively about every issue, including politics, government, and our nation. To speak persuasively, we should:
- Be Winsome — Do not get angry (easier said than done) and do not argue with a mean spirit (i.e., become personal in your attacks. Stick to issues and not personalities.)
- Be Gracious (civil) — Even when you are attacked for your beliefs, do not return fire. Continue to argue with gentleness and respect.
- Be Bold — Speak authoritatively (our authority comes from Christ and His Word.) The further away we get from God’s authority, even if that authority claims that he has “talent on loan from God” Himself, the less authoritative and reasonable we become. We might even start spouting conspiracy theories like the government is trying to enslave children by not teaching cursive in public school or progressives are infiltrating homes through dishwashers and other household appliances.
- Be Polite — Speak in ways that others will listen to your argument, even if they might not agree with you. That might even mean acknowledging when the other person makes a good point.
- Be Open — Never close the door on further conversations. Always be ready to continue the discussion. Agree to disagree.
I am not naive enough to think that everyone will magically jump on board the gracious communications bandwagon. After all, whipping constituents (i.e., likely voters) into a feeding frenzy by offering them red meat is a favorite past-time of politicians everywhere. However, when so many of our so-called “leaders” are setting such a poor example, the American people in general — and Christians in particular — can and should change the tone of our conversations. As we have witnessed in the last several years, if hope and change is going to come, it will not start with the politicians, but with “WE THE PEOPLE!”