Let me begin with a parameter and a disclaimer. The parameter is this: if you are reading this column with the hopes of having a Christian minister pronounce God’s favor upon a candidate or a political party, you will not find that here. I am part of the Baptist heritage that values the separation of church and state (the reasons for which will have to wait for another column), and I never endorse a candidate or a political party.
My admission is this: what follows are simply my observations and reflections; your experience and thoughts may be very different. In the circles in which you move, recent political conversations may have been upbeat and positive and optimistic, but that has not been my experience. From the presidential debates to media coverage to my own conversations with those around me, I have observed a mixture of angst, despair, fear and anger. I have found missing — including in my end of several conversations I’ve had — a profound lack of gratitude or hope. Surely this is a point at which the gospel, and those of us who profess it, can infuse some positive thoughts into the seemingly endless negativity. Here is my attempt to do that.
I am grateful for the blessing of freedom, including the privilege of having a voice in our government. We sometimes act as if the election cycle is a terrible burden to bear, but it is, in fact, an enviable privilege. Freedom House is an independent (non-governmental) organization that analyzes the civil liberties and political freedom of nations — and areas with disputed boundaries — around the world. They are divided into three categories: free, partly free and not free. According to their 2016 report, 44 percent of the world’s population is free, 30 percent is partly free and 26 percent is not free [freedomhouse.org]. The point is: while more than half of the world’s population does not experience real freedom, we do. What a blessing!
On a related note, I am grateful for freedom of speech and our multiple party system. While I certainly rue the personal attacks that are sometimes a substitute for a discussion of polity and principle, I am thankful that both citizens and candidates can discuss, and even argue for, their respective points of view. If we find ourselves wishing that the other party (or candidate) weren’t allowed to express their viewpoint, we need to remember that suppression of alternate views is how dictatorships are born and bred. If we think the other viewpoint is obviously inferior, then we should be able to make a case for our own ideology in a way that is well-reasoned and kind, without resorting to personal attacks. What’s more, if we believe the New Testament, slander and personal attacks say more about us and our shortcomings than they say about the other person.
Finally, I want to speak a word of Christian hope. If you remember only one thing about this column, let it be this statement: the kingdom of God is not contingent on American politics — and that is good news. God was at work in the world long before the American political system came into being, and even now God is at work in the world in ways that American citizens and politicians cannot fathom. As Christians, we believe that God is constantly at work redeeming people, redeeming the world, and redeeming the cosmos; and it is, quite frankly, rather egotistical for Americans to believe that those efforts are contingent on us or our politics. To cast it in negative terms: to the degree that we live in anxiety before the election or despair after the election, we have placed our hope in the wrong place. To cast it in positive terms: God has been, is, and will be at work to spread kindness, justice, hope, grace, and love; and God has granted us the privilege of being co-laborers with Christ in this remarkable enterprise. Imagine if all of the energy which Christians have put into tearing down the other party (or candidate) were instead put into building the kingdom of God. May it be so through you and through me.
Tony Hopkins is the senior pastor of Greenwood First Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.