Faith, Hope, and Politics

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.

This morning, while on my morning commute I heard a news story that was the equivalent of a falling star or a four-leaf clover: rare and hopeful, almost mythical.  The story was pretty simple: Republicans and Democrats are going to (hold your breath) get along to try to solve Medicare payment problems that have been plaguing doctors and their senior patients for more than a decade. Hearing even a glimmer of hope for cooperation in a city where DC could stand for Divisive Congress made me reflect back on the past year.  The months leading up to and following the 2012 November elections were heated, hostile, and honestly, exhausting for the politically minded.

In the months since the election, social and traditional media outlets have been saturated with a rhetoric of either tragic, irreversible defeat or blatant “we won, you lost” victory.  Even talk of the need for collaboration and national unity is done with a political lexicon. “Bipartisanship,” “crossing party lines,” and “reaching out to the other side” all smack of polarization, politicization and partisanship.  Individual and collective responses from many Christians have fallen much along the same lines.

But how should we as Christians frame our personal and public reactions to an election?  What of the defeatist tone of many Facebook and blog posts? The implications, that America and its founding principles are dead, are disappointing.

I am blessed to live in a country where the freedom we have in Christ is extended to a freedom in the public square to participate in our own governance.  We go to church to work on our personal relationships with God.  We go to school to grow our own individual knowledge.  We enter the workplace with a list of personal goals for our professional lives.  Yet do we stop to think about the communal, societal, and public implications of our relationships with God and others?

During last year’s election season, we were blessed to hear candidates express opposing (and sometimes similar) viewpoints in a series of debates covered on television, the web, the radio, and in traditional print and social media sources.  We were so saturated with information that a now-famous toddler cried out to make both candidates go away.  Despite the often less than civil tone, this free and seemingly limitless exchange of information is a blessing.

We live in a country, in a state, and in a community where we have much of the power to decide our future.  Even when people speak or write about “our right to vote” the recipients of this message usually do a pronoun translation from plural to singular.  We hear “our vote” as “my vote.” So if your individual ballot selection differs from the “our vote” communal selection, something must be terribly wrong.  But in the public square of American democracy, that is not how it works.  It is nice when my individual choices for a candidate or policy coincide with the community consensus.  But it isn’t really the point.

Following last November’s election, there was a Republican majority in the House and the Republicans took more gubernatorial races.  But the presidential administration and the Senate went to the Democrats.  No matter where you fell politically, you could have probably found something to be either happy or upset about. 

I chose the former (although sometimes I must remind myself of this).

Instead of demonizing, or alternatively canonizing, the men and women who are elected, I will pray for them and see them as largely flawed, yet largely well meaning Americans who love and wish to serve their nation.  I will become informed and engaged.  When I see them doing something I like, I will let them know.  When I see them doing something I disagree with, I will peacefully express my concerns.  I will remember the blessing of a country with checks and balances, frequent elections, freedom of speech.  I will remember I am blessed to live in a country where candidates don’t hide their faith in shame. I choose how I view both personal and governmental circumstances.  And ultimately, perceptions create realities. 

Before we all go casting stones and prophesying end-times next time an election doesn’t go our way, let’s remember:  “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:13-17

- Chelsea Langston is an attorney who works at a non-profit consumer organization in Washington, DC.