4 Rules of Engagement in an Election Year

2020, am I right?? Of course we are smack in the middle of an unprecedented (I feel like we use that word a lot nowadays) election season. Online conventions, vast swathes of conspiracy theory believers, virus caused uncertainty, a brutally divided electorate, and so very much more. Some mature, Bible-believing Christians think the issues are very black and white. Easy. Other mature, Bible-believing Christians are wrestling with what they see as extremely complex and challenging choices. Hard. Some want to run and hide until the election is over. Others are running toward the fray with memes, signs, and other paraphernalia in tow. What are Christians supposed to do??

I want to propose 4 Rules of Engagement for Christians in an election year. These aren’t new ideas but gospel-centered principles that should shape every area of our lives (including our politics).

1. We are people who are saved by grace, so we must give grace to all.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) Grace means you didn’t earn your way into God’s love, blessing, or acceptance through your perfection, worthiness, intelligence, or politics. Grace is the unmerited favor of God, as demonstrated through the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you accept God’s grace for yourself but fail to give grace to others — including your political opponent — you are not walking in line with the gospel. Let me say it stronger. You are behaving in a way that is anti Christ. Jesus laid down his life for us while we were his enemies so that we might become brothers and sisters. Grace isn’t devoid of truth (after all, Jesus was full of grace and truth, Jn 1:14, also, see number 3 below), but grace must shape our engagement in politics.

  • Am I gracious toward people of differing beliefs?
  • Am I gracious in my tone, or am I rude, condescending, or mean-spirited?
  • Am I demonstrating grace in what I share online?

2. We are to obey the commands of Christ. These are not suggestions.

Jesus doesn’t kindly suggest that we love our enemies. Jesus commands us to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us. And he knows this is contrary to what everyone else is doing. He knows this will differ from what you’ve seen and heard before (Mt 5:43-47). The Apostle Paul says to bless and do not curse. He says not to repay evil with evil, but to repay evil with good (Ro 12:14-21). The highest and most beautiful example of this is seen in Jesus dying on the cross for sinful people while praying for forgiveness for those who were actively crucifying him. If you only love those who share your political views, what reward will you get? Christians do not get a free pass in the political arena to disobey the clear commands of Christ.

  • Do I love my political enemy in my attitude, words, and deeds?
  • Do I pray for and bless those who are actively against me?
  • Do I compartmentalize my politics and faith, or does my faith shape my politics?

3. We are to be people who believe and speak the truth.

Jesus is the embodiment of truth (Jn 14:6), and the gospel reveals the reality of our world. So when we fail to believe, speak, or share what is true, again, we are not living in line with the gospel. God has commanded us not to give false testimony against our neighbor, including our political opponents (Ex 20:16). There are many Proverbs about the power of our speech and the wisdom of controlling our tongue. Politicians and political groups use smear campaigns, disinformation, fake news, outright lies, conspiracies, name-calling, and oh so much more. Politicians know how to expertly fan the flames of these falsehoods to get their base fired up and burn their opponents. This is not our way, and these are not our tactics. Christians are to speak the truth in love to build one another up (Eph 4:11-16).

  • Am I careful to only share what I know to be true? (i.e., not “verified” by 3 friends on Facebook and a “secret” YouTube channel)
  • Am I honest when representing my opponent’s views?
  • Am I thinking through political issues, policies, and candidates in light of the truth of the gospel?

4. We are people who have an undying hope.

Our hope is not in our president or our politics. Our hope doesn’t lie in Washington D.C. Our hope isn’t found in our constitution or the Republican or Democratic parties. Real hope, Christian hope, is found only ever in the person and work of Jesus Christ. No matter what happens in our country or our politics, we cannot lose our hope — because our hope is in heaven. Our future is secure. And Jesus is the risen and reigning King, not just of the USA, but of the whole of creation. So if our candidate or our policies or our party wins or loses, it doesn’t touch the hope that we have in Jesus.

  • Am I hopeful for the future in Christ, or am I afraid of the future for political reasons?
  • Am I trusting in the reign of Jesus more than political candidates, policies, and parties?
  • Am I ready to share the reasons for the hope that I have with gentleness and respect (1Pe 3:15)?

May we be people who are shaped, in every area of life, by grace, love, truth, and hope. May these principles guide us in the days and years to come. May God lift us out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire that defines American politics today. May he set our feet on the Rock and help us to sing once again (Psalm 40).