Politics and the Heart

It’s almost election day. Is anyone else exhausted?

I can only speak for myself, but I sure am. I have experienced an especially oppressive spirit over the past few months, and in conversations with others, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I think it’s more than just news fatigue. I think there is something spiritual about it, at least for me. It’s not a feeling or a place I want to stay in, so I’ve done some self-examination to try to figure it out and do something about it.

I have some strong political opinions, many based in my Christian faith. But the first thing I realized is that no matter how strongly I might hold some opinions or positions, a particular spirit I’ve experienced in my own heart, which does not draw me nearer to others, but rather brings suspicion and judgment, which does not foster a peace, but rather anxiety, and which does not open my heart, but closes it off, is not from God. I can be a Christian and believe I am on the “right side” but if this “rightness” breeds anxiety, resentment, judgmentalism, quarrelsomeness, and self-righteousness, it is not Christian at all, but quite the opposite.

If you’re like me, you’re very weary of this feeling. Even as exhilarating as engaging in political argument can be, it takes a real spiritual toll. If you’re like me you might be wondering how to best get through the next weeks leading up to the election, knowing that the rhetoric in the air will get more heated, the bids for attention and allegiance will increase, and the words and images on our screens will get uglier. Again, I am only speaking for myself, but I came to the important realization that allowing these things to affect my spiritual life and my relationship with others is a choice. I choose to give power to something or someone that is not really personally connected to my actual circle of influence. I choose to feel either anxious or helpless by what I am being told I should be anxious and scared of. This goes beyond having convictions and opinions, even strong ones that I stand by, because I choose to let my peace, my conscience, my thoughts and my behavior be controlled or affected by something other than God.

Here’s the bad news. When I choose this, especially when choosing this causes me to judge or hate another person, I am choosing idolatry.

Here’s the good news. I can repent. Repentance begins with self-examination and acknowledgement of the ways I have given myself over to idols, whether idols of pride, idols of despair, or idols of worldly power and control.

Here are some questions I have asked myself as I’ve tried to address this in my own heart, especially as it pertains to this election cycle.

Have I spent more time keeping up with politics and news than I have in prayer and service to others? Have I let my thoughts go beyond disagreement with a candidate and turn into personal hatred? Do I believe that the future (personal and as a nation) actually rests on this election? Do I consider people who support the candidate I oppose as being morally bankrupt and fundamentally flawed as persons? Have I judged another person based on their political views? Have I given in to helplessness or despair concerning the election? Have I counted the cost of ‘winning an argument’, especially with a friend or loved one? Have I allowed politics to sever or harm a relationship with another person? Have I purposefully chosen and consumed media that feeds into fear, anxiety, and ugly rhetoric even when my conscience tells me it is destructive? Have I sought out the most salacious sources? For Christians: Have I judged another Christian’s salvation or standing with God based on their political views? Do I pray for those whom I disagree, including the opposing candidate, hoping for the best for them spiritually (and not praying with an ‘agenda’)?

These are hard questions to ask, but I think they are important. Even among religious communities, I believe we have bought into the idea that our political views rise to the same level as our faith. This ideology (which I have been guilty of) leads to some very un-Christian behavior under the excuse of “standing for what’s right.” We are called to love one another. It is what made Christianity so profound in the Roman Empire, which was also a tempestuous social and political climate. A Christian should absolutely vote their conscience, and even believe strongly in those policies that line up with what we believe to be true and right. But we must never let those things, which pertain to the government of this world, become poisonous to our “new life” in Christ. We must never let these things supplant our true citizenship, which is in the Kingdom of God. And we must not let it sabotage our primary message, which is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Please forgive me, a sinner.

St. Stephens will host a prayer service for our nation on November 8th at 6:30pm. All are invited and welcome. You are invited and welcome. No matter who you voted for.