Election season is upon us! From primary season and local elections to the big daddy of them all in November, I doubt there’s a person around who is looking forward to the uptick in negativity (if that’s even possible). For that reason, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about God’s call to “love your neighbor.”
Politics completely aside, I’ll be the first to admit that liking, much less loving, some people is hard. I mean REALLY hard, and it’s hard for a variety of reasons. I mean, let’s be real. If I say the words — manipulative, self-serving, egotistical, and/or bully — someone’s face (maybe more than one) probably comes to mind. That’s just one example, though, and the list of available adjectives is exhaustive. Whatever it is for you, I know this much is true: Personality differences, combined with variant value systems and moral standards, create circumstances that make getting along tricky.
Throw politics into that mix and defenses remain on high alert. As the political divide in our country continues to widen, the idea of Republicans and Democrats showing love and mutual respect for one another becomes almost laughable. Name-calling and mud-slinging happen on both sides of the aisle, which, sadly, has become par for the course.
It Starts with Me
But guess what, the Biblical command to love your neighbor includes people who hold political positions that differ from your own! I’m not here to take a deep dive into partisan rancor. I can’t change the hearts and behavior of others, but what I can do is work on me. I can read God’s Word and allow His truths to soften my heart toward those I struggle to love.
“Love one another” is referenced 23 times in the New Testament, and there are no qualifiers around “who” that might mean or include. While it’s easy to love those who act, think and talk like me, God’s standard is higher. He created each of us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and He loves us all! (John 3:16) Sadly, some of the meanest people I’ve met profess to hold values and beliefs similar to my own, and while I can’t begin to know their heart, actions always will speak louder than words.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
As I shared in an earlier post, my foray into politics stemmed not from a desire to be a politician but rather a necessary “evil,” if you will, of wanting to serve on my local school board. To say there was much I didn’t know or understand about the local political scene is a complete understatement. School board elections might be nonpartisan, but my community is not. However, because my political ideology mirrored the dominant party, I assumed mostly friendly faces would smile back at me when speaking at forums. Allow me to be clear. My expectation wasn’t that everyone in the room necessary would vote for me, but I did expect a general level of goodwill. I soon learned that would not always be the case.
You Say You’re a Christian, but You Sure Are Mean
In fact, after finding myself at the end of a wagging finger and angry, bitter words, I knew my perceptions about party politics were sorely misinformed. From a group of community members that expressly aligned their party and politics with the Christian faith, I once left a forum not only stunned by the vitriol but also taken aback by questions both outside the scope of school board decision making and influenced by conspiracy theories. After one person started telling me about the Illuminati in our schools, I knew I was in store for something unexpected! Thankfully, not every forum was like that, and I also made many new and lovely friends and acquaintances both pre- and post-election. This, alone, far outweighed the few negative encounters.
However, good things came from those encounters that helped me then and also now. Not only did it help thicken my skin, but it also taught me a great deal about perspective and discernment, particularly in the face of loud, angry voices. During a particularly trying time of board service where I was navigating individual behaviors that could be erratic, mean and irrational, I had to remind myself of a few simple truths:
- Unkind words and actions often stem from a painful past or present.
- Insecurities and/or feelings of inadequacy often reveal themselves negatively in how a person behaves and speaks to others.
- Some people’s actions are a mere reflection of the examples set before them.
- We all struggle with sin.
The Plank in My Eye
With time and testing, I have learned not to let all comments get under my skin. However, the part that bothers me the most is that those mean and ugly words came from people who so boldly profess Christ as their Savior. Dr. Jim Denison, founder of The Denison Forum, often makes a point that we shouldn’t expect non-believers to act like Christians, and that, I get. But man, I struggle mightily with those who claim to be Christians and then act contrary to His Word. The more sobering reality, though, is that it also convicts me (Matthew 7:3-5).
God’s Word is clear: Love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Yet, I know my words and actions don’t always mirror this command. While I may not send hate-filled emails to my elected officials or spew angry words in public forums or on social media, I can assure you I have spoken harsh words, harbored angry thoughts, and withheld kindness.
The Only Jesus Some May See
During my season in politics, the words and actions of approximately ten people tarnished — in my eyes — the reputation of an entire organization. In many ways, that matters very little. I’m not tied to them, and there are similar groups where I can place my affiliations. But consider the damage when the nasty comments, hateful social media posts, and arrogant attitudes are coming from those who claim to represent Christ? While God may be silent on some topics, this is not one of them. Throughout the Bible, He provides plenty of commentary on the power of our words. I’ve referenced two below, but if you’re looking for others, you can try these: (John 13:34-46, John 15:12, Ephesians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 4:8, 1 John 3:11)
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29
“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” – Proverbs 17:27-28
The body of Christ consists of imperfect people, so we will falter and make mistakes both in word and deed. But I’m also mindful that I (and you) might be the only “Jesus” someone sees. With that in mind, I do think we need to be mindful of our words and actions, particularly in an increasingly secular world.
Check Yourself: Three Easy Ideas for Social Media Engagement
Like many others, I’ve grown weary of the bitter, partisan politics, but with the stage set, it’s also an opportunity to practice loving our neighbors. With election season now in full swing, here are a few simple ideas that can make a big difference:
- Think before you post. Seriously, folks, spewing negativity on social media needs to end. As believers, we are called to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but sharing snarky comments and political rancor is not loving and will not change someone’s mind. You can’t bully someone into sharing your political views. I love what Melanie Shankle wrote in her newest book, On the Bright Side, “Me calling you an idiot for your political beliefs isn’t going to do one thing to change your mind; it will just change our relationship.” #truth
- Remain silent. If you have children, I am going to guess you’ve spoken these words: “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Adults need to heed this advice, as well. You know, you’re not obligated to respond to something you see on Facebook or Twitter. I have some friends that hold different opinions from my own, and when I see something I disagree with, I just keep on scrolling. Having a one-on-one conversation with someone to discuss and share your differences is one thing; debating a topic on social media becomes nothing but a train wreck. Practice what you preach.
- Put Your Comments to the Four-Way Test. I’m not a Rotarian, but I love their “Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do.” The idea is simple: 1) Is it the TRUTH? 2) Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3) Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? And 4) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
- We will value one another as unique and special individuals.
- We will not laugh at or make fun of a person’s mistakes nor use sarcasm or putdowns.
- We will use good manners, saying “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” and allow others to go first.
- We will cheer each other to success.
- We will help one another whenever possible.
- We will recognize every effort and applaud it.
- We will encourage each other to do our best.
- We will practice virtuous living, using the Life Principles.
Wise words, if you ask me, and what a difference it would make if we all abided by these “great expectations.”
Let’s Do Better
Jesus calls us to be His witness (Acts 1:8), and Luke 6:45 (NLT) teaches us that “What you say flows from your heart.” With that in mind, I have to ask: Do my words and actions point others to Christ or do they discourage and push people away? My desire is that others will see something different in me and that I can learn to see ALL people with a heart, mind and spirit willing to love.
So how do we do this?
Prayerfully and one day at a time.