I have avoided blogging about politics this year. It just gets too ugly too quickly. But I was persuaded otherwise when I read this passage in preparation for an upcoming Sojourn service:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
What a useful verse during election season. I signed out of Facebook in June because of a sabbatical, and the vitriol that floats around during the election season is one reason I’ve avoided returning. The rhetoric gets so over-the-top that, in order to keep one’s head, you either laugh or turn it off. I get tired of laughing.
On the one side you get the fear mongering of Romney and Bain Capital (like the ad that laid responsibility for a woman’s death at Romney’s feet) and on the other side, you get similar fear mongering of Obama (like the birthers and those who insist he’s a closeted Muslim). Both extremes are absurd, and both campaigns are acting irresponsible and childish as they engage in these tactics. Some in the media complain that the whole campaign season is treated only as a horse race and a measure of likability. They complain that no substantive debate on policy occurs (as evidenced by both candidates reticence to spell out much in the way of specific policy plans post-election).
But at the end of the day, the problem isn’t with the media coverage; it’s with the consumers of media. The press is merely meeting demand. We love the horse race. We love hearing the other candidate bashed. We love the mud and the muckraking, for the same reason we love gossip magazines and reality TV.This is true of the public generally, and Christians particularly. We feel a sense of righteousness in our vote, as though we’ve passed some heavenly exam when we cast our ballots correctly.
My concern, here in this blog post, is only to point people back to the Titus passage. Go and examine your Twitter stream or your Facebook statuses. Are you speaking evil? Are you quarrelling? Are you being gentle and showing courtesy? Even to those you disagree with? Paul doesn’t give an exemption clause for republicans or democrats.
Government is immensely complex, but most of us make our judgments based upon sound bites, short video clips, ads, and debates. At the very least, we should be aware of how little we know, and speak with humility. Even if we know a lot, if we have a PhD in political science and spend thousands of hours combing over policy documents and candidates’ histories, we should still speak gently and humbly.
In particular, it always bothers me when I see Christians speak so mercilessly and hatefully of the sitting president. It was true during the Bush administration, and it’s true now. Our speech should show honor, even if we vehemently disagree. (See 1 Peter 2:13-17) Many progressives and liberals should repent of their hatred of Bush, and many conservatives should repent of their hatred of Obama. Our rulers are put there by a sovereign God (Romans 13:1-2), they love their country (they’d have to be a fool to take the job if they didn’t), and they have more pressure on them than most of us could imagine. The term “public servants” gets lost on us today, but if you watch the lives of most elected officials – including small time, local officials – even if you balance in the perks of power and prestige, they have brutally difficult work ahead of them.
What they deserve is our prayers and, whenever necessary, our respectful opposition. That looks dramatically different than the flaming rhetoric of cable news and AM radio. Paul told the church to act and speak as he did in Titus 3 in hopes that it would set them apart from the world. Their refusal to speak evil and join in quarrels, their gentleness and their courtesy, all would be radically counter-cultural. Such character comes only from people who believe that we serve a greater King and live in a greater Kingdom. That assurance tames a lot of rhetoric, soothes a lot of fear about “the end of our nation” and reminds us that ultimately, the whole thing – the election, the nation, and the future – is in God’s hands.
So let’s make an effort. Don’t let the world around you set the pace for our conversations about politics. Let the word and Spirit of God shape something different.
Because of the nature of this post, I will be moderating comments more carefully than usual. So say what you’d like, but don’t be a jerk.