Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 3, 2016

The Election and the Soul: Dealing Faithfully with our Political Anxiety

The anxiety about the current election season is hard to avoid. It is flooding our Facebook feeds and working its way into our daily conversations.  One thing I think most of us seem to agree on is that we will be glad when November 9 is here!

What I’d like to offer in this article are some thoughts about how we might deal with our political anxiety.  I wrote a similar article during the last election, but I wanted to revisit the material and add some additional thoughts.

This article is not about debating the issues or evaluating the candidates. I think most of us have had ample opportunity to hash out and debate these issues by now.  Instead I want to suggest some spiritual practices that I think help us tend to our soul and protect our relationships during a divisive campaign.

  1. Prayer

If anybody could advise us on how to deal with political anxiety it would be David. His life was marked with constant political instability. He dealt with civil wars, military coups, and betrayal from his own allies. Yet, David often directed this anxiety to God in prayer. Prayer enabled David to cultivate an awareness of God in the midst of difficult situations. In Psalm 46, for example he speaks about how the nations are in an uproar and the kingdoms are tottering, but as he recalls God’s power and faithfulness he is able to gain perspective. He concludes his prayer saying, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

I don’t know what the outcome of the election will be this year, but I do know this. God will still be God on November 9! In the Lord’s Prayer we are invited to rest in the hope that God’s kingdom, power, and glory will endure forever! This is not only a future hope. We can trace this promise through history. The church has survived and even thrived through political situations that are much more dire than what we face today.

What might happen if I replaced some of the time I spend reading news headlines and instead rested in the presence of God and expressed my anxiety to Him? Perhaps, like David, I might be able to be still and remember that God is God.

  1. Protecting our relationships

Most of us have strong opinions about the current political election. In the midst of this, we need to be careful that we do not take our cues from the toxic type of debate going on in our society.

In his book, What’s so Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey writes, “Politics draws lines between people; in contrast, Jesus’ love cuts across those lines and dispenses grace. That does not mean, of course, that Christians should not involve themselves in politics. It simply means that as we do so we must not let the rules of power displace the command to love.”

As Christians we need to make sure that we do not let a bitter root of dissension grow up within our communities. One helpful antidote to dissension is humility. The us-versus-them mentality of partisan politics can create a situation where we elevate our virtues and overstate our opponents vices. In response to this we ought to humbly recognize our own shortcomings and biases. N.T. Wright reminds us that, “the line between good and evil does not run between us and them. The line between good and evil runs right through every human heart.”

Another important virtue needed to counteract dissension is empathy.  In her book Twelve Steps to the Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong emphasizes the need to cultivate an empathy for the things that are driving our opponents view of reality.  One practice she suggests is to try and defend your opponents view.  If you have a sharp disagreement with someone perhaps you could grab a coffee and debate the issues by taking the other persons side!

3. Prophetic Words

At the same time I think it is important for us as Christians to speak up and defend the values of the kingdom of God. Dietrich Bonheoffer writes, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The bible is full of examples of prophets who speak out against injustice. We usually think of prophets as “future-tellers” but their main role in scripture is to be “truth-tellers.”

So there is a place to speak.  Grace does not mean we cease to be discerning.  One of the false narratives I have heard this election cycle is that we should let leaders off the hook because we are all sinners.  To be sure, we are called to humbly forgive others, but forgiving someone doesn’t mean we necessarily trust them.  When Jesus says, “do not judge,” he is not saying, “do not discern.”  The intent of Jesus’ statement is that we do not pass final judgment.  As Dale Bruner says, we are called to be discerning not damning.  Yes we forgive, yes we don’t pass final judgement, but we still are called to hold leaders accountable.  So there is a place to speak out against things we think are wrong.

Yet, as Paul reminds us, we are called to, “speak the truth in love.” One of my professors once told me that there is an important difference between a prophet and a critic. A critic simply likes to cut people down whereas a prophet speaks truth because he or she loves the people and desires their best.

Furthermore, the truth we speak is not to be guided by our political affiliation but by our understanding of the values and teachings of Jesus. Timothy Keller observes that, “the churches in America are often controlled by the surrounding political culture than by the spirit of Jesus and the prophets.” This, I believe, expands our notion of what is true and will likely cause us to speak out against issues on both sides of the aisle. This orientation also protects us from sacrificing the values of the gospel for the sake of our political alignment.

  1. Perspective through Gratitude

Finally, while our anxiety and frustration is valid, I believe there is still reason to be very grateful for our current situation. There is a profound juxtaposition going on right now between the political crisis in America and the political crisis in Syria.  Let us be grateful that we are in a country that does not resolve differences through extreme violence. Our politicians may anger us, but they are not using chemical weapons on their citizens. Democracy can be messy and frustrating but it is a blessing compared to totalitarian regimes. As Churchill once said, “democracy is the worst form of government except for every other form of government.”

More importantly, as Christians we believe that we have a hope that transcends the hardship of living in the world. As Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” As Paul says in Romans, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Perhaps this current political impasse is an opportunity for us to evaluate what we really trust in.

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. Excellent reminders. Thank you!


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