Welcome to the New Normal: A 24-month election cycle (much like our year-round California fire season!). I’ve labeled myself a “Democrat” for as long as I understood there were Republicans and Democrats in this country, but it wasn’t until rather late into my adulthood that I realized that labels like that weren’t terribly helpful in unmasking the subtler distinctions that shimmer just beneath such labels. My being a “Democrat” should mean, for example, that I’m not also an evangelical. But I am, at least in the old sense of that word as someone who understands the bible to be the principal authority and witness in all manner of things concerning life and death (note, I did not say “exclusive authority”). The fact that I have to explain—or for some folks, perhaps even apologize— for such a dual affiliation points to the ludicrous nature of our present political and social discourse. I’ve since shed the “Democrat” label (and no, I haven’t replaced it with the equally frustrating and even more vague “Independent”).
In trying to come to terms with our faith commitments in such a hyper-sensitive political culture, and then explaining such commitments to our friends and neighbors, we often find ourselves navigating half-truths, committing sacrosanct sins, and offending rationale thought, whether we are Republican or Democrat. So how, exactly, do we express such commitments in a culture that demands particular things from us, things that may actually run counter to who we truly are what we believe? Put more simply, how do I have a political conversation with friends and enemies that reflects the love of Christ?
Political discourse is, almost by definition, slippery by nature—hence the reputation of “slick” politicians—which means that not a lot is accomplished though much is said. The nature of democracy, Plato reminded us, is that the consensus reigns. What the market says, goes. And American culture has taken Plato’s ideas and sanctified them in religious language (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”), thus imbuing such language with an aura of ultimacy and inevitability. But what if what we believe doesn’t fit into any nice, neat “Republican” or “Democrat” platform or category? What if what we believe confounds both political parties and all manner of politically acceptable sound-bites? What if our allegiance to Christ (and to civil discourse) actually offends people even before we’ve opened our mouths? I certainly don’t think the answer is for Christians to keep our mouths shut (as if that’s even possible!).
In this heightened and prolonged political “fire” season, we would do well as Christians and as a church to shed the “Democrat” and “Republican” labels and try, instead, to keep our principal commitments few and simple. Sure, get politically involved. But more importantly, focus on Christ. Help the needy. Spread the Word. If we do these things, and manage to do them even marginally well, we will be witnesses, not to any particular political party or ideology (which is just a gussied up word for idolatry) but to Jesus Christ himself, to the love of God, and to the Great Commission. That would be no small victory. It’s certainly no small task.