Things are heating up politically here in Wisconsin. Republicans against Democrats. Democrats against Republicans. State senators “hiding” in Illinois, the governor answering prank calls, tens of thousands of people protesting in Madison, yes, the political machines are moving, and there isn’t any sign of it slowing down soon.
What I have been observing on all sides of these issues is hatred, vitriol, and presumptions about motivations that are certainly uncharitable, and very often slander or worse. And we are not talking about the “other” people. I am talking about Christians, even members of our own congregation. The conversations happen in bible classes, on the phone, on Facebook or Twitter, and really anywhere that people gather. I’m quite certain I have been as guilty of it as anyone.
All of this begs the question: what does it mean to be a Christian in these times? How am I to treat someone with whom I disagree? What if I believe their behavior is not only wrong politically, but is sinful? How am I to interact with them?
The Scriptures are quite clear on this. Let’s start with the Eighth Commandment and Explanation:
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Note a couple things from this commandment and explanation:
- This is not about faith or lack thereof. This commandment is how we are to treat fellow human beings, always and everywhere. Period. There is really no such thing as how we are to treat fellow Christians versus how we are to treat unbelievers. Love does not see political or racial divisions. It does not discriminate between believers and unbelievers. God did not come into our flesh to save those who agreed with Him. He came to save the lost, the rebelling, the haters and backbiters. He came to save us. And because of this, how we treat one another is a reflection of what we believe about how God should treat us.
- This is not about motivation. I’m sure this will come as a surprise to some, but people can be jerks. Politicians can lie. So can unions. So can political action groups (either organized or self-appointed). So can Christians. So can I. So can you. If the commandments only applied when the other person had proper motivation, the world would be an even more wicked place than it already is.
- This is not about reciprocity. Anytime we are talking about the Law, there is always a tit-for-tat sense about it in our minds. “I will not do this, if they won’t, either.” That’s not Christian. It’s tempting, but it’s not right.
- Slander means speaking about another person in such a way that hurts their reputation. This applies to presidents and governors, labor and management, men and women, parents and children, siblings, friends and the like. If my goal is to hurt another person, then I am in the wrong. Please note, I am not saying anything about the issues or the content of the arguments at all. I am simply saying that if my goal is to hurt another person, that is against God’s Word, regardless of any political motivation or affiliation.
So if this is what we are not supposed to do, what are we supposed to do? Again, the Scriptures have the answer for us:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
This is not a blanket “always look on the bright side of life” approach on the part of St. Paul. What he is saying is the positive side to the 8th Commandment. Rather than focus on the negative, why not look to the good? You will live longer, and will be much more at peace in the process. Here’s another:
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 1 Corinthians 8:9
As a Christian, we are not to flaunt our rights in such a way that others may fall away from the faith. How I say things and approach issues in the political (left hand kingdom) realm speaks volumes as to what I believe about God and how He works in the world. And again:
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Proverbs 31:8
None of this is an argument for quietism, or political head-in-the-sandedness. We are obligated to look out for the well being of our neighbor. I am my brother’s keeper. How I go about showing love to my neighbor may be different than how you go about it. But make no mistake about it: that is your job as a Christian, and mine. I am not speaking politically here in terms of social welfare state versus free market, or anything else. I am simply saying that I have a responsibility as an individual to care for those around me, to speak up and defend those who cannot defend themselves, and to show mercy to my neighbor, because God has had mercy upon me.
Finally, I would be deeply suspicious of anyone that argues “the bible says we must side this way” in a nice, simple and unambiguous fashion. How we are to treat one another is clear in the Scriptures. We are to love one another. What is not at all clear in the Bible is how that translates into political practices in a representative democracy (republic) such as ours. We can disagree. We may have deeply divergent views on the political future of our state. That is okay. The Church is big enough. We can take it.
So in summary, this is how I would commend you as fellow Christians to behave in our time of political turmoil:
- Don’t concern yourself with motivations, secret plots, conspiracies and the like. Human beings will always operate in these ways, and today is no different than a hundred years ago.
- Do concern yourself with what the issues actually are, and not the personalities involved.
- Remember that Christians of goodwill can disagree on how love is to be shown to the neighbor. This does not mean someone who disagrees with you isn’t a Christian. It means that they understand things differently that you do.
- Our unity in faith is immeasurably more important than our unity in politics. If you have found that political agreement is more important to you than who you will be spending eternity with (or where!), then I would suggest your priorities are out of whack and need serious examination.
I hope this is of benefit to you. God bless us all in in these interesting times.
Pastor Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Thursday of Sexagesima
March 3, 2011