August 17, 2012
By Amy E. Black
The Olympic flames have been extinguished, the summer is drawing to an end, Mitt Romney has chosen his running mate, and party leaders are preparing for their national conventions. The election season is about to begin in full force, and all signs point to a contentious and angry battle ahead.
As followers of Christ, we can make a difference in this year’s campaign by modeling humility instead of arrogance, extending grace to others even when we disagree, and using reason to test campaign messages.
Politics is a powerful arena for Christian witness. The election season offers a renewed chance to counteract negative stereotypes of Christians. Our words, actions and demeanor when discussing politics are an important part of our public witness. We can point others to Christ by engaging in politics with respect and inviting constructive conversation instead of blanket condemnation. We can seek opportunities for positive interaction across political divides by raising our disagreements with a spirit of goodwill and a willingness to learn.
Discuss politics in Christian community. As Clay Cooke recently wrote in these pages, one place to begin is making space in our churches, small groups and other gatherings where we can genuinely listen to one another and encourage open and honest discussion about different ways of applying Biblical truths to politics. As we practice civility among those we know best, we can learn new modes of political engagement and demonstrate that it is possible to disagree on political issues with love and respect.
The Alternative Political Conversation, a project sponsored by the Center for Public Justice and several other organizations, is one place where Christians from a range of political perspectives can discuss contemporary political issues and model respectful dialogue. Five other contributors and I are part of this project. We post opinion essays every few weeks and encourage others to ask questions, share their perspectives, and contribute to a fruitful conversation.
Research the candidates on your own. Parties, political action committees (PACs) and candidates will spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to influence the vote. Some of what they will say will be accurate and constructive, but many campaign communications will distort the truth and some will outright lie. Take the time to check out the claims. Two websites that can help are www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com. If your research dispels rumors and clarifies the facts, share what you learn with others so that they will not be misled by false claims. Solid research will also help you advocate positions with clarity, detail and precision.
Call campaigns to account when they stray far from the truth. If a candidate makes false or misleading claims, contact the campaign to register your concern. Ask for an explanation, and follow up to see how they respond. If you discern a pattern of continued, unrelenting distortion, register your protest in ways that make a difference—refuse to work for or donate to such campaigns and don’t reward such tactics with your vote.
Pray for the candidates and the election process. Although the campaign season provides ample opportunities for political participation, the most essential contribution is heartfelt prayer. The tense political climate exacerbates the tendency to criticize political leaders and candidates with whom we disagree. We should be even quicker to lift them and their campaigns to God in prayer, asking for God’s wisdom and protection.
President Obama’s second term and partisan control of both chambers of Congress hang in the balance, so all signs point to an election season fueled by vitriolic attacks. In the midst of the furor, followers of Christ can honor God by modeling a different approach to politics.
—Amy E. Black is Associate Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College and the author of Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason (Moody Publishers, 2012).