Focusing on the Kingdom in Political Involvement

Four years ago, I felt a call to run for political office. It was a call that terrified me. I still remember the evening when I shared what I felt God was calling me to do with our small group from church. At the time, even speaking out loud about it with brothers and sisters in Christ was terrifying for me. I remember it being a step of faith to discuss with others what God had already been saying to me.

I became involved in politics because of education and issues I saw in my children’s school. I have always been active in our church and other aspects of our community. While I was president of the PTA, my passion for the community grew as I interacted on a daily basis with the teachers, students and parents. My sons’ school was close to Title 1 status, but not quite there. We had an economically diverse student body. I still remember the letter I received from one of the students when the PTA provided T-Shirts for all the kids as part of our main fundraiser. A young girl wrote me, “I’m going to take good care of this shirt because it is the nicest one I have.” Even then, I wanted to do what I could to make a difference with and in the community.

Running for office was a difficult 16 months processes and was at times bruising. Through tough days, I learned a lot about myself. My family and I would have never made it through that process without the love and support of friends and family in church. I don’t think I’ve ever asked for prayer or help so often in my life. The first lesson I learned was that focusing on serving others depended more on the help of my brothers and sisters than I could have ever imagined.

Without that support, I’m not sure how I would have been able to show or embody grace throughout the campaign. I tried to listen to others, have conversations to try to understand the people I was called to serve. Sometimes those conversations led to points of agreement. Other times conversations led to two people having just a bit more understanding and empathy for how someone else saw the world.

If God’s kingdom includes making room for those who are different from us, then trying to be a Christian in politics must be about people making enough room to recognize each person for who they are—a child of God.

Too many times we are tempted to try to use power or fear to force people to agree with us. We want power to make others like us or follow our rules. This tendency is something that really bothers me when I see it. When we try to use the tools many use to manipulate people–no matter the policy aims we have, we have stepped outside the way of following Jesus. I can hardly imagine a place where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are more counter-cultural than in politics.

Following Jesus means laying aside many of the tools of the world or modern politics.

There are days when I come home to my family and tell my husband and sons that on that day I felt like a failure. On those days, I feel like following Jesus hasn’t led to the policy outcomes I thought were right or to making a difference in people’s lives. On a daily basis, I see people manipulating their way to “success” and have to remind myself or be reminded by those who love me that God doesn’t call us to be successful. God calls his children to listen, follow and be faithful. When I am most tempted to think that I am wasting my time, I must remember that if God has called me, then my part is to do my best and trust God for the results.

There are other days though where being open to others leads to opportunities I never knew I would have to serve others. Sometimes that is as simple as helping someone figure out how to get their driver’s license. It may look like knocking on the door of someone who attacks you on social media and having a conversation about their concerns. It may be reading a book to elementary age girls about how they can make a difference in the world. Sometimes it even looks like standing up, being open and transparent about how you are thinking about an issue and voting.

Politics are not for the faint in heart, but neither is following Jesus. In politics, you never make everyone happy. Civility seems a lost art in our society and it is easier to attack someone than to try and see something from their perspective. For me, following this calling hasn’t only been about trying to have the right policy positions. Instead, it has been about trying to embody a politics that is built on listening and respect as I seek to serve.

Dinah Sykes
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