Church and Divisive Politics

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  October 29, 2016

            It has been said that opinions are like armpits. “Everyone has a couple of their own and nobody wants their nose shoved into someone else’s.” Although somewhat humorous and also a bit gross when stated this way, it illustrates a vivid truth. Right now, there are a lot of noses being shoved into stinky, nasty armpits. It is not fun.
            The heated tone of angry rhetoric always tends to escalate in the waning weeks of a highly contested presidential campaign. This year, however, there is something very different in the air as the most divisive and bitter presidential race in memory draws to a close. As the vicious attacks increase and the vile poison of political hatred spreads like a virus through social media and much of America, it challenges our Christian faith. Many Christians—including myself—have very strong opinions regarding the way to faithfully vote in the election. We have our scriptural, theological, ethical, and moral reasons why we earnestly believe that there is only one candidate that a Christian can truly support and call one’s self a follower of Jesus Christ. The problem is, we do not agree on which presidential candidate that is.
            Remove the partisan ideological priorities or candidate personalities from the mix, and Christians still have very difficult choices. Should we stand up and boldly proclaim the Word of the Lord without regard for whom it offends or should we express meekness and humility by staying out of the political fray? Should we draw stark lines in the political landscape and proclaim that anyone who falls outside of those doctrinal definitions cannot be considered a Christian, or should we open our arms to a vast diversity of Christian expression and understanding, even when it conflicts with what we individually believe? Lest we forget, the same Jesus Christ who overturned the tables in the temple also preached that it is peacemakers who are blessed. Part of our challenge is rooted in the diversity of Scripture.
            It is also a challenge in churches. Members of the same congregation often feel divided and outright disgusted because brothers and sisters in Christ support the other candidate. Both sides shake their heads in revulsion and bemoan the presumed ignorance and stupidity of the fool who would vote differently.  Some wish their church would engage politics more vehemently (provided the church’s stance emulated their own) and some wish the church would ignore the political realm completely. Once again, our Bible says that we are engaged in battles with powers and principalities so we must remain vigilant and fight the good fight, while also telling us to separate from the world and not become corrupted by its sinful and debased ways.
            The challenges intensify when posts on social media, rants in traditional media, and intentionally provocative campaign rhetoric serves only to stir up angry responses. The messages that come from both the Republican and Democratic candidates are intentionally crafted and delivered to stir up their supporters to take action against their detractors. My own personal experience has recently proven that diverse opinions cannot be discussed or understood in social media. It has become a hot-bed of offense, over-reaction, and childish name-calling. Much of our news—and in particular the various networks of television news—spend more time featuring presumed experts with provocative opinions about the news than what is invested in actually covering the news itself. Anger has overtaken compassion and hatred has replaced love.
            There are no easy answers, but there is a greater reality. God, who is bigger than this election, will remain God no matter who wins. The question is, will we follow God or give in to the hate and bitterness that has defined this election cycle so far? What is the Christian choice?