Many Americans are anything but enthusiastic about the upcoming Presidential elections this Fall. The choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not only igniting disrespectful and demeaning rhetoric from candidates and supporters alike, but there has been a growing dissatisfaction, disgust, and anger that is breaking out everywhere it seems. Battle lines were drawn some time ago and they have continued to deepen. This has become the norm -- even among professing Christians -- and this troubles me deeply. Christ-followers ought to live differently from the world around them, especially when prevailing attitudes and behaviors are inconsistent with the teachings and practices of Jesus.
The challenges we Christians are facing related to the coming election are not new. Politics have always possessed an incendiary nature. In the 18th century, John Wesley recognized how one's involvement in fiery election-related rhetoric could compromise one's witness to Christ and the call to live differently than the world around us. This led Wesley to give believers specific advice on how to vote:
“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
― John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley
Regarding #1 --To reject voting for "fee or reward" is not simply about avoiding bribes, but to vote without regard for personal benefit. In a culture addicted to self-interests and personal entitlements, followers of Jesus should follow a different set of guiding principles -- those which put the welfare of others ahead of their own. Also in view here is the importance of "judging" properly and responsibly, with God as our helper. This requires wisdom and effort and is quite different than voting according to popularity or simply following one's gut.
Regarding #2 -- The refusal to speak evil regarding the person one is voting against is entirely consistent with the teachings of the New Testament. Here is just one of many examples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43–45 NRSV)
Regarding #3 -- Here is where we must avoid all temptations and tendencies to become inflamed toward others because of either their or our political convictions. Social media is, of course, currently filled with fiery, accusatory, and demeaning rhetoric related to the current presidential campaign. This may well be "normal" in the culture at large, but it should not be so among those professing to following Jesus Christ. In my daily reading, this verse recently grabbed my attention: "Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels." (2Timothy 2:23 NRSV)
I call on all of us who claim to follow Jesus, therefore, to BE DIFFERENT in regards not only to this Fall's presidential election, but to all elections. This is not a call to check our heads and hearts at the door, but to engage them in ways that both trust and honor Christ, and that manifest his love toward others, regardless of their political passions.
P.S. Thanks to Sam Mallon for pointing me to the following link and the fascinating advice from John Wesley: http://www.characterjournal.com/john-wesleys-advice-on-how-to-vote-in-an-election/