The world is definitely busy debating. Say the word “politics” and people have an instant reaction. There are good people on all sides of several current issues and topics. Yet the simple act of logging on to our social media accounts can raise blood pressure and induce anxiety. People want to be heard. They’re passionate. Some are scared. Some are hurting. Others are angry. And some, when they get into heated discussions, get downright mean.
With all of these debates raging, some of us have grown weary.
Many have started asking people to stop discussing politics. They’re sick of it. They can’t take anymore. And we all wonder, as followers of Christ, what should we be doing?
Perhaps the answer to that question lies in a debate that took place two thousand years ago. Take a moment to imagine the ancient city of Jerusalem during the week of Passover, the year Jesus was crucified. Gleaming white stone buildings. Narrow, curving streets. An enormous white and gold temple that could be seen for miles. A large Roman palace. And people everywhere. They traveled from all over to worship at the temple. Imagine the Olympics descended upon your hometown, and perhaps you can picture what the week of Passover felt like for the residents of Jerusalem back then.
The sides of every street might have featured vendors selling everything from animals for temple sacrifice to high-priced food for weary travelers. Finding a place to stay would be a challenge. And a peaceful corner to sit? Maybe impossible.
Imagine also a religious political system that had many strong, differing opinions. Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Zealots, Romans, and more. These were all educated, passionate people who disagreed on some very important topics. They all had strong reasons why they believed as they did. As it is today, politics in ancient Israel was complicated.
On the Tuesday* before the Passover, in the very crowded city, some of the religious leaders approached Jesus, probably in one of the temple courts. Their desire was to debate some of the hot topics of their day, including the payment of taxes to the Roman government. With the population of Jerusalem swelling to huge numbers, people probably crowded closer, audience to a confrontation between wealthy, educated leaders and Jesus.
Religious zeal was high. Emotions were high. Stress was high. For many of the Jews, Roman occupation was devastating. It meant they were no longer an autonomous nation. They were treated as second-class citizens. They were, in many ways, oppressed and the Romans were not kind-hearted overlords. Many of the Jews expected Jesus to be a political leader, someone who would raise an army and destroy Rome for good. They wanted a revolution, but this carpenter wasn’t quite fitting the mold.
So the first group questioned Jesus.
He answered. And they were amazed, or as the Message states it, “Their mouths hung open, speechless.”
The second group questioned him.
He answered. The passage doesn’t say whether or not they were speechless, but there’s no record that they further argued.
A third religious leader noticed how well Jesus answered, so he asked a question of his own. “Which is most important of all the commandments?” Jesus answered, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” Mark 12:29-31(MSG).
Mark 12:34 reports, “After that, no one else dared ask a question.” (Read the entire passage in Mark 12:13-34)
A lot of us today have a lot to say about politics.
We all have opinions and passions. But there are some things easy to forget . . . like loving others as well as we love ourselves.
I’m not saying this to point a hate-filled finger at one particular group. This applies to us all. But I’m writing this because my heart breaks when I read all the unkind words flying on all sides of debates. I am saddened to say it, but many people see Christians as hateful, arrogant, judgmental, unforgiving, ignoring of the poor, and spiteful.
Does that hit you straight in the heart? Me too. It is true that people who don’t know Jesus might not understand Christians and there are many who will hate us, but I Peter 2:12 says, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.” (NLT)
In other words, we should treat others so well that they can’t help but say good things about us even if they don’t like us.
We should be a light to the world! And a lot of that comes down to our words and our actions. Words are powerful. God built the entire universe using words. Jesus is referred to as the Word of God. Words build up or destroy.
Furthermore, I love how Jesus wasn’t a member of any of the political parties of his day. Same with today. Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat or any other political party. He doesn’t vote red or blue. There are Christians who have very deep reasons for aligning themselves with one party or another, and what a great thing it is that we have the freedom to choose. There are wonderful people on all sides of our political system, and for that I am so thankful! But no matter what we feel or how we align ourselves, we need to keep in mind Jesus’ words: love others as you love yourself.
How can we accomplish this in politics?
We’ve got to listen and show compassion before we react.
When you see a post that represents an opinion you don’t share, try to understand where that person is coming from, especially if you’re going to comment. What I’ve learned is there is often a very personal reason someone has formed their opinions on controversial matters. Even if we don’t agree, we can be compassionate. Even if we don’t “like” what someone is saying, we can listen and commiserate. We can grieve when they grieve.
When we do comment, we should use loving and respectful words.
We all want to be heard, and we all like to be respected. I’ve seen a lot of name calling that attacks not only the beliefs of the other side, but also the intelligence. No one is swayed by such tactics. That only spreads hurt and mistrust. As Christians, we are called to love others as we love ourselves, regardless of how they treat us, so this is a great opportunity for us to show that love and respect to others.
When you do post something controversial or a heavily debated topic, ask yourself why you’re posting it.
Seriously think through it. Why? What is your goal? What will it accomplish? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have opinions and that we can’t share them, and I’m definitely NOT saying we shouldn’t be involved, but sometimes we can choose how to share a message. If there are two posts about the same topic, but one uses inflammatory language, choose the other. Sometimes things are posted by well-meaning people, but the message can be lost if it’s presented in a disrespectful manner.
Most importantly, we must remember who the real enemy is.
Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the act of “othering.” By othering I mean having a broad-based opinion about a group of people that is different from us. (And sadly, the opinion is often negative.) We other in regards to race, religion, nationality, economics, education, sexuality, and politics. You know you’re in trouble if you start your statement with “Those ____” or “Those people.”
We all do it. We’ve all had it done to us. Those others are humans, just like us.
Maybe it’s hard to find common ground, but it’s there. As one friend puts it, “Some aspects of our lives are different, but others are common to humanity.” At the most basic level, every one of us is made in the image of God. One group of people cannot claim to be exclusive heirs of God’s grace. God offers salvation for all. Our job as Jesus followers is to love others, even those who hate us. And they are not the enemy.
We have a real, powerful, and divisive enemy, a roaring lion. He wants us othering so that we miss opportunities to share Jesus’ love.
He wants us fighting among ourselves. Why? Because he is the enemy of God. Satan loves it when anyone stirs up trouble, but especially Jesus followers because we represent Christ to the world. People see our actions and decide whether or not they want anything to do with our God. Pretty sobering, yes? When we stir up dissension and act unkindly toward others, Satan’s motives are served. Our negative actions make his enemy look bad. He wants to devour us, or better yet, to sit back and watch us devour each other.
Instead we should think about…
“For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” 2 Cor 5:19 (NLT)
We live in a privileged country. We are allowed to freely voice our opinion, and we are allowed to vote, and we are allowed to worship with freedom. We are blessed. We should be involved and we should be a part of our government. But we should also be mindful of how we represent Jesus.
*The NIV Study Bible notes that this debate probably took place on Tuesday of the week Jesus was crucified, so right before the Passover was celebrated.