I’m writing this piece to you, dear people of God, to offer some guidance regarding how we should conduct ourselves during the course of this heated political election season. I (and perhaps you too?) am concerned that we deviate from our main objective and focus as a church, which is Jesus Christ.
We ought to be a church that has as our main concerns the clear perspectives of Christ’s kingdom and teaching. Social, political, personal and other such important concerns are secondary to loving, honoring and glorifying God through Jesus Christ. I say clear, because we can often find not-so-clear support in the Bible for our own political or social views which so easily distract or cause us to deviate from our purpose as Christ’s local body.
So, permit me to lend some guidance for how we can treat these political and social issues, but more importantly, treat others during this intense season.
First, each one of us should be convinced in his own mind about his position. This is the general or broad principle of Ecclesiastes 7:25 and Romans 14:5. Each one’s political view is best informed by the Word of God (Psa. 119:169; Rom. 14:5), and not merely informed by one’s cultural, familial or other influences. At the same time, this is not a call for anyone to be sloppy about his or her political perspective. Again, using a broad application of certain scriptures, one should not be double-minded (Jas. 1:5-8), but should say what he means and mean what he says (Matt. 5:37; Jas. 5:12).
Secondly, each of us should recognize that everyone has an opinion, but that not all opinions are equal, nor are they all always valid (including our own).
An opinion is “The judgment which the mind forms of any proposition, statement, theory or event, the truth or falsehood of which is supported by a degree of evidence that renders it probable, but does not produce absolute knowledge or certainty” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language).
It would be prudent if each person has a well-informed opinion to share, not merely one that is based upon little knowledge (Prov. 28:26), feeling or intuition (Prov. 25:2). Well-informed opinions bring a higher value to good discussions. Ill-informed opinions serve no one.
Further, we should respect one another through the love of Christ, even if we do not agree with or respect the other person’s opinion(s). Please note that in our congregation we do have a diverse group of people.That’s a very biblically healthy thing. Opinions about social and political matters range from one side to the other, with much in the middle. We are to be reminded that Jesus’ own disciples held to quite divergent, indeed hostile, political and social positions. Consider Simon the zealot living and working side by side with his enemy Matthew the tax collector.
Thirdly, each of us is called to have the humble mind of Christ (Mic. 6:8; Phil 2:5ff; Rom. 12:3, 10; 1 Pet. 5:5).
All division, discord or fighting stems from an abundance of pride and a lack of humility (1 Tim. 6:4f; Jas. 4:1-3, 6). This easily includes the propensity to try to impose our own political or social agenda or perspective upon others. So when we don’t get what we want (such as trying to make others agree with our own views) we make fertile ground for fights and discord within the church.
Humbleness means that each one of us is not seeking to please self. This is to say that I/you/we are not to be:
(1) Arrogant (Rom. 12:16; Jas. 4:16)
Which means one does not insist on my own way, ideas, or beliefs just because they are mine.
(2) Domineering (1 Pet. 5:3)
(4) Unreasonable (Ex: Gal. 6:3; Jas. 1:22)
(5) Unyielding To be unyielding means one must not stand hard on things he believes when the truth and facts clearly counter his position.
Humility will take a genuine interest in others and in what they have to say (Rom. 12:9, 10). Humility is teachability, a willingness to give an ear to other perspectives in order to learn what others believe and perhaps why they believe them. This is not a call to receiving all other views without discretion or discernment, but it is a call to be proactive in graciously and patiently listening to others. Too many fights take place over straw men and too many divisions happen because of a deliberate and judgmental ignorance.
Humility is also thinking rightly about oneself (Rom. 12:3, 10, 16, 17), seeing oneself before the face of God. When we meditate on the implications of living before the presence of an almighty, sovereign Lord we will be more aware of such things as who we are even in the midst of a politically heated time, who God is with respect to elections and the future of our country, and so forth.
Additionally, a humble person is teachable (Job 15:8; Prov. 26:12; Eccles. 7:16; Isa. 5:21; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 8:2), and willing to change his mind about any matter if the other view bears legitimate weight and based upon revealed truth.
Therefore, each person can be (ought to be?) passionate about his position, but not arrogantly obnoxious about it (Prov. 11:2; 13:10; 21:4; 28:25; Mark 7:22; 1 Pet. 5:5).
Fourthly, each one has a right to state his position or speak his conscience in a godly manner (with grace, truth, clarity, kindness, etc.). However, we should exercise wisdom and choose appropriate times in which to voice or discuss our views.
Fifthly, if it is a matter of an ongoing debate, the discourses should be tempered with humility and other Christ-like qualities. For example, one should have restrained control of his attitude and tongue through gentleness and patience (2 Sam. 22:36; Ps. 18:35; Gal. 5:22, 23; 1 Thess. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:2, 3; Jas. 3:17).
The biblical idea of gentleness, a very important character quality and precious to God (1 Pet. 3:4), is not that of being weak or sentimentally passive. Rather, gentleness is that of being patient, mild, reasonable, full of grace and graciousness. This is exercised by not insisting on own way or our own perspective. Jesus, the God-Man and omnipotent Lord of the universe was gentle.
The Bible portrays gentleness as seeing people as sensitive beings, deals with people where they are, and treats them with respect (1 Cor. 10; 1 Pet. 2:23).
It really is feasible for us to hold to divergent political and social views and still be fellow believers in Jesus Christ. I think of the example of J. Gresham Machen, founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and of Westminster Theological Seminary who voted for a Roman Catholic Democratic presidential candidate. On things biblical he was about as conservative as you can get, but on other matters he held to various views. Fellow believers denounced his opinions and some even vehemently questioned whether he was a Christian because he did not hold to the same social or political ideas as they. That’s just wrong.
The gentle person shows carefulness in choosing words and expressions so as not to unnecessarily offend (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 3:2). I am not saying that we can or should never offend. There are appropriate times for that. For example, biblical truth and the Gospel would be a couple of main things that offend others. Jesus’ exchanges with the high priest, the king and with the Roman governor demonstrate patient restraint. Jesus was blunt and truthful, but not loathsome. Yet, at other times, Christ gave strong, forceful rebukes which were quite offensive. Those occasions happened when Jesus was protecting his sheep from wolves, or clearing human or satanic impediments to the mission God the Father had for him.
A gentle person reflects care, affection and goodwill toward others (1 Cor. 13; Eph. 4:2). He is not callously abrupt, obnoxiously critical or arrogantly judgmental.
We must not be pugnacious. Literally, this means one is not a striker, not prone to violence, and not a fighter. We are not to be physically abusive. But by implication one is not is not to be mean-spirited with words. He doesn’t lash out when someone says something about which he disagrees. Neither does he incite arguments or alienate people through an attacking manner.
He does not follow through with an uncontrollably hot temper (Prov. 3:30; 15:18; 17:14; 20:3; 25:8; 26:17; Phil. 2:3).
A gentle, humble, godly person must not be quarrelsome. That means he is generally averse to verbal fighting or contentious arguing. This is different from debating where you present and argue your position. The wise person knows what, when, and how to argue/debate rightly.
One ought not to be eager to make his point in order to get his way. He is not to be a contentious disputer (1 Tim.6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:22-26; Tit. 3:9) Biblical gentleness does not relish or overly delight in crushing others by defeating their ideas and beliefs.
On the positive side, the godly person has a sense of peace, tranquility, and calmness. He is a peacemaker – one who is able to bring calm to a stormy situation; not stir up a storm (Eccles. 10:4; Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; 14:19; Heb. 12:14; Jas. 3:17).
As believers, we are called to be just (Tit. 1:8). This means to be upright, righteous, and impartial in dealing with people. A just person is able to forget personal interests and seek the truth in situations, in interpersonal conflicts, or as an umpire over differences, especially differences of opinions. Being just also calls each to speak what is right, while maintaining the ability to hear various sides and weigh the evidence, facts, or arguments honestly (Deut. 16:20; Ps. 82:3; Prov. 21:3; Isa. 56:1; Rom. 13:7; Col. 4:1).
In short, the godly believer exercises the fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:23; Phil.4:5), especially in the context of the life of the assembly of God’s people.
If one cannot persuade others of his own position he should be content that he tried, and follow through according to a biblically informed conscience. At the same time, one should be mature and secure enough to permit others to hold their views without condemnation, rebuke, or ridicule.
Having said all this allow me to conclude by providing specific ways to apply this:
1. We have such a divergent group of people when it comes to political and social views. This is not a bad thing. We need to continue to actively respect one another and refrain from judging (condemning) each other.
2. Unless we are having an obvious discussion about certain “hot” topics we should refrain from making political or other statements that are not germane to the subject at hand. There are opportunities and venues we could arrange for us to do this. Note: I am not saying we are to be quiet about our views. It’s a matter of when and where to say them.
3. We should be careful about making personal political pronouncements during times when we have guests (especially during worship). For example, you might feel passionate about a political position and voice that opinion, but to voice that with guests present could too easily distract them from knowing that we are first and foremost about Jesus Christ and not about, say, a conservative or liberal social or political agenda. In other words, it would be simply wrong for someone to go away believing that we are primarily about “right-wing Republicanism” or “liberal socialism.”
In any case, we always need to exercise discretion, kindness, and love while uplifting and making much of Jesus. Other matters are secondary (even if important) and are appropriately discussed in other contexts.