What to Do on Election Night

John ArmstrongPolitics, The Church

I am deeply distressed by the way national elections divide us as Christians. These political debates have continued to pour rhetorical and personal poison into the diet of the church for decades, especially since 2000. We are already divided from one another by a myriad of common problems; social, political, theological, moral and spiritual. Then every four years we go through this election process in which Christians take sides, bad mouth the views of each other in person or on the social media. They mock candidates and political parties with fierce cynicism on a daily basis. We then try to act like all of this makes very little difference to our unity as the children of the Sovereign King who clearly prayed for our oneness and communion together his people (John 17).

Mainline Christians, and more progressive Catholics, often act like Republicans are heartless, uncaring Christians with no brain and no social conscience at all. More conservative evangelical Christians, and their conservative Catholic counterparts, act like Democrats are involved in some kind of evil compromise with the devil because they are not pro-life or support a wrong view of marriage. Plus, the Democrats are driving us toward the abyss. (Funny, but four years ago George W. Bush had driven us to the abyss according to the opposite narrative!) Both sides make some good, and a lot of bad, points. The debate is important but this is NOT the real point. The real point is that our common life in Christ is rooted in the divine nature and together we are the people of God regardless of whether we are red or blue. When we “bite and devour” each other over political views we do great harm to one another, often in ways that we cannot talk about openly so we just hold this hurt inside ourselves. The unity of the whole church is impacted and the mission of Christ once again suffers great harm.

Please do not misunderstand my major point. I welcome honest and serious dialogue among Christians about the great issues that matter to national public policy. I plan to vote and I have my views about many of the issues before us right now. (My views are more complex than the simple back and white ones I see in so many deeply partisan debates. Some Christians think I lost my way, if not at least my nerve. Proof of this was the response to my attempt to positively tell the story of both Obama and Romney on this blog site a few weeks ago, without any tip of the hand that favored one versus the other.)

My point is that I do not believe this political season is license for snarky, mean-spirited diatribes and cutting innuendoes that debase our brothers and sisters. Look, no matter how you see this upcoming election there are Christians who are as faithful and committed to Jesus as you are who do not agree with your political views. They might even be as strong in their views as you are in your own. But when the dust settles, and it will settle, the idea behind e pluribus unum (“out of many one”) should apply to the church even more than to our divided nation. There is great diversity in the body of Christ. But that diversity is the very context in which we should strive together to build and protect our God-given unity. After all, Jesus did not pray for our political parties but he did pray for our relational unity.

I have worshiped in local congregations where I have seen conservative Republicanism become the “unofficial” view of the leaders and the majority of the congregants. Check out the bumper stickers and read the Facebook posts of members in such churches. Some of my best friends in this ecclesial context tell me that they will not discuss politics with their church friends because the lack of civility is so great it is not worth the effort to even engage in conversation about an election. In 2008 they quietly voted for Barack Obama and told no one in their Christian circle in general. I only know who they voted for because I have a friendship, that involves deep trust, with people on both sides of this political divide and such people talk to me. I have also worshipped in more progressive mainline settings. Here a political conservative (or even a person of more moderate persuasion like myself) needs to keep their mouth shut about their political views for the exact same reason. To reveal that you do not believe the progressive agenda about social justice, and their distinct view of the proper role of the state in solving a myriad of social problems, will land you in hot water with these kinds of folks. So you keep your mouth shut and lay low waiting for November 6 to come and go as soon as possible. Reading the social media on both sides is actually pretty depressing. I have stopped reading some friends who post their comments on Facebook for just this reason. (I have in mind friends who are both left and right. I am a equal opportunity non-reader of deeply partisan and cynical views!)

This has all caused me to wonder about the night of November 6. What could make this evening a different experience for Christians across America? I have a serious suggestion. Why not invite the church to gather in corporate prayer for the nation, listen to several readings from Holy Scripture and then receive the Lord’s Supper together as one people? A group of Mennonites gave me this idea via a recent post I read. An Election Day communion service! What a fantastic reminder of who we are and what really matters to us in terms of our identity and the remembrance of both our past and our future. We are God’s people first. I need to remind myself of this every day for the next two months. How about you?