Friday I talked about how Christians can engage in the political process in this country, even to the point of expressing disagreement with government officials - and that this does not conflict with the Biblical injunction to submit to authority. Today I want to start talking a little about what that means for Christians, and after that I'll be talking about more personal things, like why I hold certain political views.
Christians are to be salt and light to a world bereft of both. This goes for politics as well as life in general. Rare is the politician nowadays who fully discloses both pros and cons of policy and makes impassioned pleas backed by facts and analysis. Rather common is the official who fails to disclose information that strengthens an opponents point. Name calling and innuendo take the place of reasoned, respectful discussion. And interest groups and celebrities are pitted against each other in order to draw the most attention possible from a media interested in conflict.
Of course most people have favorite politicians, and are less likely to see such flaws in their own favored leaders. But I think few would deny this is a problem that is far too extensive. The reason it looks so common, though, is that there are too few (although there are some) who stand in stark contrast to base politics: there is little salt and light in politics, too much of the "everyone's doing it." And unfortunately, some who share the faith can't be told apart from the rest because they play the game the same way.
What does it look like to be salt and light in politics? It all starts with love and truth. God leaves us no outs - we are to love our neighbor and our enemies both. There is no in between. Political allies and political opponents both need to be treated with love. And when you love someone, you don't smear their name, you don't make misleading accusations, and you don't dishonor their reputation. It means helping those in need, even if those in need have different approaches to policy than you. And it means you engage in politics out of concern for others rather than for your own glory or enrichment.
Christians also need to be truthful, speaking truth in love, and refraining from deceit. Practically speaking, this means honestly addressing weaknesses in one's own position instead of covering them up. It also means acknowledging the strengths of opponents' ideas, and honest disagreement when you can't be convinced. Christians need to treat people fairly, which is impossible if you're not dealing honestly and truthfully. Being truthful also requires you be accountable and responsible, owning up to mistakes and spreading credit to those who help you out. Seek out answers from all sides (or as many of the major ones as practical) instead of reacting, knee-jerk like.
Finally, Christians engaging in political activities need to treat everyone with respect. This goes along with loving others, of course, but it needs to be called out specifically. The Bible tells us to give respect and honor to people to whom respect and honor are due. Notice it doesn't say "give respect and honor to people you think have earned it." No, respect and honor go to the position of authority as much as the character of the person holding that position. In my own life, this means that I try to use honorifics and titles when speaking of a leader (e.g. President Bush, President Clinton) instead of just using his or her last name - a recent social phenomenon that would have been unquestionably viewed as disrespectful in years past. Some people refer to this as respecting the office, not the officeholder, and there is some truth to that.
Regardless of the views others have, Christians are called to conform to a high standard. This standard is greater than that demanded by the world. When we don't live up to that standard (and I'll be the first to admit I fall far short far too often; God's working on me too) we don't look any different from anyone else. Nothing about us is attractive to a world looking for a difference maker, the ultimate one of whom is Jesus Christ. We are obligated to love, honor, and respect people in all aspects of life including politics. Our responsibilities do not end only with those who agree with us; they carry over to all people with whom we interact. How refreshing it would be if everyone's political activities reflected love, truth and respect both to friend and foe alike.