Can we consider politics from a Christian perspective without it turning sour? Pastor Eugene Cho analyses these ideas in his book, Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk.
When election day rolls around, the big question is often: Why should I vote? After all, in New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji (Samoa recently introduced compulsory voting), we don’t have to.
But what about the crucial follow-up question: How should I vote?
This goes beyond the box you tick on your election ballot. If you consider yourself a Christian, then your motives, your attitude towards politicians/parties and the way you speak about politics should reflect your faith.
The New Zealand General Election is set for September 19, following which the entire world will turn its eyes to the USA for their 2020 Presidential Election in November.
Maybe you are deeply invested in the outcomes of these elections. Maybe you don’t care at all—but you should.
Part of the Kingdom
In his book, Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk, Pastor Eugene Cho believes caring about faith and politics is not an either/or choice. In fact, he agrees with Pastor Tim Keller that not getting involved is a vote for the status quo.
Cho implores readers to reconsider the way they vote to support their neighbours and those in need, rather than voting only to oppose certain people or policies.
‘When I read the Bible, it’s emphatically clear that people matter to God—including and especially people who are marginalised, oppressed, forgotten, and on the fringes of our larger society,’ he writes.
‘Don’t just vote for what you’re against. Show us what you’re about. Create a better story.’
This means prayerfully considering which politician or party best reflects your values. None will ever align perfectly, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote.
‘The kingdom of God cannot be encapsulated by one gender, one church, one denomination, one leader and certainly not by one political party—even if there are prominent Christian leaders advocating for it.’
Cho worries that people are either becoming disengaged or, conversely, obsessed with politics—and politicians use Christianity as a tactic to win voters in both of these groups.
‘Voters, and especially people of faith, must realise that political parties and candidates may distort, manipulate, cajole, emotionalise, tug and use whatever other tactics to “speak” to our faith. And if we’re not careful, we can be dumbed down and influenced in such a way that a candidate’s strategic use of “Christianese” becomes the dominant or even the only factor in determining our vote,’ he writes.
Cho argues we need to approach politics with ‘Kingdom of God Christianity’ so that our politics are informed and transformed by faith, rather than being Cultural Christians whose theology is held captive
by politics. Cultural Christianity puts us at risk of distorting the Bible’s true message to justify politics—or even just to win an argument—and idolising our own objectives ahead of God’s.
In a digital media age, we are vessels for political misinformation. Cho encourages us to look deeply and use media literacy before we load biased news and falsehoods into our arsenal.
‘In our partisan, fragmented society, where everyone has access to a megaphone through social media, we often use our megaphones to project lies or half-truths. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes it’s because we’re lazy. Sometimes what we say and do is intentionally vindictive in order to push the narratives we want others to believe.’
It is easy to use political disagreements as an excuse to demonise the people who did not vote the same way (or at all), but the Bible tells us we are all fearfully and wonderfully made by God. It is wrong to dehumanise and blatantly disregard the views of those we disagree with—or worse, bully them or threaten their wellbeing.
Cho explains that he prays regularly for world leaders—yes, including current US President Donald Trump—because prayer reminds us not just of our need for God but also that, as humans, we are all connected to one another.
‘While I disagree much with Trump and have criticized him for many of his policies and bullying tactics, I can’t possibly heap a broad stroke of judgement on the 62,984,828 human beings who voted for him,’ Cho writes.
‘Yes, we can be against policies, someone’s politics and actions … and still acknowledge their humanity and Jesus’ love for them.’
He also believes we need to look hard at ourselves before we judge.
‘We want to preach to others, but we don’t preach to ourselves. We love to flip tables, but not our own. We love to expose the privilege in others while rarely considering our own.’
It is possible—and beneficial—to befriend people you disagree with. Healthy conflict can help us better understand each other. Swallow the initial urge to criticise, and instead ask them about their motivations. It might even reveal your own blind spots.
Keep the Faith
We need to care about the voting process and ensure that our most important objective is to vote with our hearts focused on God’s love for others.
‘Without a government that values each individual—their life, their health, their future—our society will forget those in the margins. And without intentionally valuing all people, our nation or even any smaller community will never live up to its full potential,’ Cho writes.
‘Injustice is not a right and left issue. It’s a right and wrong issue.’
And even when the vote doesn’t go the way you hoped, Cho reminds us that as Christians we have something no political result will ever trump (pun intended).
‘Every election matters. It’s naive to say otherwise, but no political commentator’s election night announcement can beat the fact that we already have good news—the ultimate Good News. No candidate or party platform is more important than this.’
Don’t be a Party Pooper
Don’t pray for a politician to be publicly humiliated, impeached or defeated. Instead, pray they would lead with wisdom, change their heart and for God to use their leadership.
Don’t slander politicians or their ardent supporters online. Sometimes, it’s okay to write a measured response and stand up for others, but don’t be rude, dismissive or quick to judge.
Don’t bait people or engage in a political pile on. Talk gracefully and listen before you reply in a huff.