I'll be completely honest and say, when I started to read Brian Kinnaman's chapter on the fifth criticism about Christians being too political in his book UnChristian, I bristled.
I thought, "Why can't Christians be involved in politics? I have just as much right as anyone else to vote and be involved!"
The research shows, though, it's not that outsiders think Christians don't have every right to get involved politically. Their issues had more to do with our methods and attitudes.
A young man named Brandon that Kinnaman interviewed said the following: "Sometimes it is hard for me to reconcile the 'Christian movement' with the people I knew from my own days in the church. Today, whenever I experience the activities of American Christians as an organized group - and frequently when I interact with them in politics - it is almost always in terms of them trying to use political force to entice people to behave a certain way. Do Christians have every right to go and vote as he or she believes? Absolutely. But twenty years ago, when I was looking at evangelical Christianity from the inside, it seemed like a movement bursting with energy to spread good news to people. Looking at it from the outside today, this message seems to have been lost in exchange for an aggressive political strategy that demonizes segments of society. I believe American Christians have become tools of the Republican election machine - at the expense of their own image and message."
What makes this more compelling is while Brandon is an avowed agnostic, he's also an active member of the Republican party.
While I believe that as Christians, we have not just a patriotic duty but a moral duty to make clearly thought out voting decisions, it also has become clear after reading the research in this book that how Christians conduct themselves in the political arena is turning off the younger generation from Jesus.
There are several reasons for this. First, while moral laws do provide boundaries for society's behavior, we can't force spiritual transformation on people through legislation or politic maneuvering. I am a big supporter of laws that limit access to abortion, but while voting and being involved in politics to get that done is important, far more important is actually investing in the lives of young women who are at risk of having an abortion. I think sometimes, Christians get caught up in the idea that the only solution is a political solution. We put our faith in the next election rather than God Himself.
The second issue is we tend to stereotype people into political parties and then gage their spirituality based on those parties. Every Republican is not a Christian nor prioritizes the same issues, and every Democrat is not morally bankrupt or a socialist. It's always a mistake to see people's labels rather than their individuality. For example, I am a Republican, but I am very concerned about environmental issues. That doesn't make me a "bad" Republican.
We need to be very careful about judging people's spirituality based on who they vote for - it's not a black and white issue. There are a lot of complexities that go into political involvement. For instance, some believers feel the Republican party is not focused enough on the poor, the needy or the AIDs epidemic. Those issues are important to them, so they vote accordingly.
The third issue is we need to learn the art of disagreeing respectfully. That means listening to people's views without the agenda of changing their minds. I have my beliefs and opinions because I believe they are right. I need to remember to give other people the same respect for their beliefs and opinions. Just because they are different than my own doesn't mean they spent any less time thinking them through. It also doesn't mean that I am somehow more godly than they are either.
We also need to be careful how we talk about elected leaders we don't agree with. Let's not confuse someone's political stands with their moral character. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, if the other party's candidate is elected, it's okay to tear him/her down and be disrespectful. Even if you feel the leader is an "enemy", we are still instructed to pray for that person.
Part of this goes back to the mistaken belief that the answer to our problems is who is put into office. The Bible says that God holds the hearts of kings in His hands. I think some of the vitriol over political issues comes from fear and a lack of trust in God.
Finally, as believers we need to not sacrifice people's souls just to prove ourselves right. Have you ever met someone who just will not let up until you agree with them? How much do you want to hang around them and what kind of weight do you give their opinions? When all someone does is carp about what is wrong and never offers any solutions, how important are their opinions to you?
I should never leave someone with the impression that I was more interested in being right and/or winning a political argument than I was concerned about them as a person. That's called winning the battle but losing the war.
A case in point from the book. A young man had been developing a relationship with his neighbor over the course of several years. During an election year, the neighbor was incensed when someone told his 10 year old daughter to tell her dad not to vote for John Kerry because he was a baby killer because he was pro-abortion. The neighbor didn't even want his 10 year old to know what abortion was, never mind talking politics with an elementary student. Those words did a lot of damage to that young man's efforts to share his faith with that neighbor.
Politics and our thoughtful, prayerful involvement in them is important - I would dare to say even biblical. However, politics aren't the ultimate answer. God is the answer, and He is less concerned if your bumper sticker has a donkey or an elephant on it, than He is on how you treat people - even those that vehemently disagree with you.
~ Blessings, Bronte