Loving Our Political Neighbors

“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Madeline L’Engle – Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

I am the spouse of an elected official. I never expected to be in this place and there is no instruction manual for what it means to be a Christian who is the spouse of a state Senator. I’m also the father of two teenage boys who are coming of age during a divisive political age. Our family’s direct involvement means my sons know more about the good and bad of politics than many their age. What I can say clearly is that this path has stretched and challenged my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and what it means to be a husband and father.

Politics is often a nasty business. Often you hear about people saying that politicians need thick skin in order to do their jobs. That is undoubtedly true. What is also true is that families of politicians likely need thick skin too. Families don’t always see direct criticism, but they certainly see the negative things that are said about their loved one who’s votes and positions are public. As a family we have to find ways to deal with what others say without demonizing those who are saying them. As a father, I have to decide what we shield our children from knowing and what we discuss.

Precisely because of the way that social media provides ways for just about anyone to say whatever they want about elected officials, we’ve discussed more than we have shielded. The easy way out is to simply discount someone as “crazy” or a “liar” when they say something untrue or unfair. We’ve had difficult discussions about what it means to love others when they say awful things. I’m not sure that we have found the answers, but we try to think about what it means to model extending grace. Some days we do that well, other days we struggle to find the creativity necessary to extend grace.

The creative exercise of extending grace isn’t just for our enemies. Finding ways to model extending grace is essential to protecting our own spirits and those of our loved ones. What do you do when those misleading advertisements come? What do you do when some who you thought were your friends say nothing while people lie about the person you love most in the world? If you don’t have enemies, enter politics. Enemies will find you.

Thankfully our faith provides resources to those who have enemies. Jesus anticipated that his followers would have enemies. The instructions are quite simple: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Of course, those simple instructions aren’t always simple to live out.

It is easy for us to divide up in to tribes, apply labels, and cheer for those on our team while hating those who oppose us or our loved ones. That path is wide and it leads to destruction.

In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother or sister?” He wonders aloud, is seven times enough? The answer from Jesus is that we are to forgive “seventy times seven.” Biblical scholars point out that this isn’t a command for a literal 490 times. Instead it indicates that we are to forgive again and again and again. Our forgiveness should look like God’s forgiveness.

Whatever honest opinions we have about what should happen in public policy, Christians must constantly resist the temptation to act like the world around us. If our enemies use fear to motivate people, we are tempted to use fear. If our opponents use misleading statements to persuade, we are tempted to mislead. If we are hurt, we are tempted use that pain to justify retaliation.

When we give into those ever-present temptations, we stop following the way of our Savior. We stop being part of God’s kingdom which is an alternative to the politics of this world. We stop loving our neighbors as ourselves. We forget God’s promises to be with us and guide us wherever we go. We forget that God defends us and protects us.

A friend of mine who’s spouse is an elected official was facing these same temptations when her husband was being attacked. I knew the pain she was experiencing because it was the pain I’ve experienced. I wrote down this prayer and sent it to her. This prayer is one I pray for all of us who attempt to follow after God and are called into the dangerous world of politics.

Almighty God, the author of Peace and Grace, may you—through the love of your Son Jesus—comfort those who endure the evil spoken about those they love. Too often Lord, the coarseness of our society sees people using hate, anger, and fear to shape the imaginations of others. We confess that sometimes it shapes our own imaginations and we reach for those same emotions and want to return evil for evil. In those moments Lord, remind us of the love of your Son who prayed “forgive them Father, for they do not know what they do.” At the same time may the Truth enlivened by your Holy Spirit drive out lies and may those who take up those weapons find their attacks fall flat. Bind up our wounds so that we may be agents of your healing. Bless us so that we might be a blessing to those whom you have sent us to serve. Protect our families and allow us to trust them to your gentle loving care. Amen.

Jeffrey Sykes
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