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Living as disciples in the middle of an election season

September 06, 2012

GROWING IN GRACE
BEN GOSDEN

I guess I can’t really help it, but every four years I follow political races like they’re sporting events. Now you must know that my interest comes from the fact that my background was in political science. Before I was called into the ministry, I majored in political science in undergrad and planned to go to law school. My great hope was to work in politics or cover politics as a journalist. So I admit that I can be a bit of a political junkie at times.

There is, however, a darker side to the sport of politics. We’ve all seen it at some time or another. Political elections just have a special way of bringing out the absolute worst in us. The commercials invade our televisions and over time whip us into a frenzy. Cable news networks are counting on the fact that we’re looking to raise our blood pressure a few ticks so they specialize in offering heated debates – sometimes based in facts and other times not so much. Social media doesn’t help either. Friends can share articles and commentary from all sorts of hateful sources. It’s hard to get away from the constant barrage of political noise.

Before long we can’t help but reflect this negative spirit. Christians can probably tell horror stories of Bible studies and small group meetings that run amuck whenever a political discussion begins. Before you know it, the lesson dissolves into a full blown argument.

As much as I enjoy the strategy of politics, I’m reminded that it’s also the source of terrible division among folks who are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ. When you find yourself in the throes of the political season, it can be hard to remember that Christ calls us to love each other – even those who vote differently. As the Church, we must try to find ways to be witnesses of this love and grace. The Church’s job is to pray for the world and work to transform it as we ourselves are transformed into the very likeness of Christ. This can be really tough when we’re passionate about politics at the same time. But it’s possible.

Here are a few simple (and profound) ways to embody the love of Christ during these final two months of the campaign season:

  • Delete those toxic political emails. More times than not these emails will come with the request to forward them along. However the buck can stop (or at least be paused) with you when you choose to delete the email and not continue to spread the divisive language.
  • Do not circulate partisan materials at your church. Campaigns have every right to hand out flyers and materials. But partisan politics has no place in the church of Jesus Christ. If this is a practice at your local church, lovingly and prayerfully find ways to end it. Let the workplace, social gatherings, or neighborhoods be a place to hand out partisan political materials. The sanctuary is the place to worship the God who is beyond political labels.
  • Practice holy conferencing. As we get closer to November, encourage small groups and Sunday school classes to set rules for dialogue. Christians can and should discuss social issues because these issues express the real-life environment where discipleship is lived out. But remember we are Christians first. Whatever political leanings we have should come after that fact. Rules for discussion can ensure issues are talked about in light of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and not because we might vote Democrat or Republican.
  • Hold a service of prayer on the day after Election Day. With Election Day on a Tuesday, this is a great opportunity to use that Wednesday as a time of prayer and reflection. Pray for our newly elected leaders and pray for our nation that we will learn to live together in harmony despite our division. Maybe your Wednesday Night program is a good time for this?

Be an ambassador for peace and reconciliation. News and political programs will only try to raise our blood pressure between now and November. Remember that folks will need to hear a healing word of hope – a reminder that no matter who is elected to office, God is still God and the hope of Jesus Christ is eternal. Most importantly, remember that after Election Day, we will still be the Church. Whether you have political allies or enemies on the other side of the pew on Sundays should not matter in the light of the fact that we remain brothers and sisters in Christ.

May God’s grace and peace enfold you and your church in these days and the days ahead. Amen.

 

The Rev. Ben Gosden is an associate pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon. He can be reached at bgosden@mulberrymethodist.org.

 

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