UPDATE 1/21/2017: As the new administration begins in 2017, we asked Marcus Goodyear to update his excellent suggestions from previous elections to help us navigate political conversations with grace, both online and in the office.
For just a minute, I’m going to adopt the role of pastor here. So file in. Take a pew. Sing a song by yourself. Say a prayer. Is your mind in the right place? Good.
Let’s talk about politics--and do it with grace.
As Christians, we represent Christ in everything we do. So let’s hold each other accountable to a level of discourse that honors Christ with these Ten Commandments for Talking Politics (or facebooking politics, tweeting politics, instagramming politics, blogging politics, etc.)
1. DO NOT WORSHIP POLITICAL THEORIES OR PARTIES.
(You shall have no other gods before me.)
Do not worship ideas or theories instead of God. Not your stance on global warming or Capitalism or deregulation or education or abortion or gay marriage or health care or international trade or war. Do not put your hopes in a political stance or party line or economic theory.
Those things are important, but they should not distract us from our unity in Christ Jesus.
2. DO NOT WORSHIP POLITICAL FIGURES OR IMAGES.
(You shall not make for yourself an idol.)
The President of the United States is not the savior. Neither are members of Congress, the Supreme Court justices, or the host of state and local government officials who are serving their communities. Neither is the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Do not bow to Elephants or Donkeys.
Good leadership is important. Political pep rallies and mascots are fun, but they should not distract us from our unity in Christ Jesus.
3. DO NOT CLAIM (OR IMPLY) THAT GOD ENDORSES YOUR POLITICAL OPINION.
(You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God.)
This is slippery. But it is important. Christians can, of course, express political opinions if they are so inclined. But we should be humble about it, representing our positions as our own personal opinions, not God’s. In your social media channels and face to face conversations, do not use the Word of God to prop up your political hopes. Don’t.
4. GIVE IT A REST.
(Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.)
Life is about more than politics and what is happening in the White House, state house, or city hall. Be careful not to bring up political issues in every conversation or interaction, online or in person. God is interested in more than who’s in power running the government. Our conversations should reflect that.
5. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.
(Honor your father and mother.)
What should we do if we disagree with parents and family members? Here’s my suggestion. If they start ranting and raving against a particular ideal, politician, or candidate that you support, respect them by keeping your mouth shut. Don’t take the bait. And certainly don’t bait your parents! (God forgive me when I have been guilty of this.) I’m not suggesting all political discourse is off limits, but if discussions are dominated by contention and frustration with little positive outcome, then leave politics off the table. Do not let politics become a wedge between you and your family.
It’s not worth it.
6. DON'T BE CRUEL.
(You shall not murder.)
Elvis may have said it best, but Jesus had some good words on this, too. He said, “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment … anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). If another person slanders you through social media, talk to him or her privately first. Don’t air ugly conversations in comment sections. Don’t attack people or ideas in public posts. This doesn’t mean you have to be silent. Respond to comments with an email or private message. Better yet, offer to buy them a cup of coffee and talk to them in person. Engage them as Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-16.
And remember: it isn’t a sin for two Christians to disagree about politics.
7. BE PURE.
(You shall not commit adultery.)
I’m not sure how this applies to politics except as a reminder that we need to be examples of purity. Before you post a comment for or against someone, ask yourself if you are going to sully yourself or discredit yourself as a Christian. And don’t forget the Bible's many comparisons between idolatry and adultery.
Don’t get so excited about politics that every conversation and post and comment reveals which side you are “in bed with.”
8. BE HONEST.
(You shall not steal.)
Protect the integrity of every election process—from local races that happen every year to presidential cycles that last for an entire year. Voter intimidation and voter fraud have no place in this process. Both actions are a way of stealing votes from individuals.
But also consider that we can steal influence from our elected leaders when we refuse to accept their leadership, when we slander them out of spite, or when we are too quick to share stories that are based on hearsay. If you can’t respect the person, respect the office. If you can’t respect the office, respect God who calls individuals to serve in that office.
Whether you agree with our elected officials or not, they deserve our respect and prayers.
9. DEFEND THE TRUTH AND THE FACTS.
(You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.)
And who is your neighbor? The President. The Vice President. People elected to office. But also the Democrat next door and the Republican across the street.
Here’s my practical suggestion. Refrain from passing along derogatory, inflammatory, or snarky stories. No matter how funny they are, stop reposting personal attacks on the credibility of politicians. But let’s take it one step further. If you read an email that seems suspicious or a social media meme that gives you pause, do some homework. Visit FactCheck.org, a non-partisan, non-profit "consumer advocate" for voters. Many political candidates and elected officials have a page there.
If you find an online neighbor has shared something that isn’t true, send a kind, private response and gently explain the error to your neighbor.
10. BE GRACIOUS AND ACCEPT ELECTION RESULTS.
(You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.)
We have the privilege of electing our government officials to their posts. This means that many people can run for any given office. But it also means that only one person can win each race. The others will lose. Do not covet your neighbor’s political victory, power, or influence if your side loses.
If your side wins, do not gloat. If the other side wins, remember that God has worked through some pretty questionable characters. With God’s grace, we can all get along regardless of who is in the White House and which party controls Congress.
NOTE: For the sake of simplicity and familiarity, I’ve used the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments from Adam Clarke’s commentary. However, there are other ways to slice and dice Exodus. Wikipedia has a simple chart to show other views.
© 2015 - 2017 © 2015 by The High Calling and the Theology of Work Project, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Marcus Goodyear. Article by Marcus Goodyear.