Politics seem to be getting more divisive and ruthless. Are the practices we see in politics compatible with Christianity? Do they hold spiritual dangers for Christians?
On Nov. 3 the American people will go to the polls to select a president. Either President Donald Trump will be reelected or former Vice President Joe Biden will be elected as the 46th president. The rhetoric and tone of the election seems to be as nasty and hateful as ever—with both candidates viciously attacking each other’s character, age and even physical appearance.
This comes at a time when the United States and the world face some of the most grave and serious challenges since the two world wars and the Cold War of the 20th century. Some of those challenges include the coronavirus pandemic, domestic unrest, an increasingly aggressive Russia and China, and a significant vacancy on the Supreme Court.
The sad reality is that American politics is filled with what the Bible calls carnality. The carnal mind is described as “enmity against God” and “not subject to the law of God” (Romans 8:7). Essentially, carnality is living and conducting oneself outside of God’s influence.
So is there anything we can learn by analyzing the practices of our politicians? In fact, there is. One of the interesting things about the Bible is that it often teaches spiritual principles through the bad examples of individuals.
I believe there are some important lessons we can learn by examining the practices of politicians and striving to do the opposite. This list should also make us pause and consider whether or not we should even participate in the political process at all.
Three ways to get elected president
1. Find, expose and attack the flaws of your opponent to make yourself look superior.
In the world of politics, it seems a person cannot get elected by focusing only on his or her positive ideas and vision for the country. Though candidates often claim they are going to run a positive campaign, the reality is that nearly every candidate engages in attacks on his or her opponents—sometimes directly and sometimes through surrogates.
In the present election cycle, we have seen both candidates try to discredit each other by attacking and exposing alleged abuses, past failures and character flaws.
It doesn’t matter if someone is president or running for the office—answering evil with evil is carnal behavior.But this behavior is 100 percent contrary to how God expects His followers to live. Instead of attacking and mocking our enemies, Jesus taught a revolutionary concept: “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). He even showed how serious He was by giving the extreme example of showing kindness to an enemy who strikes or steals from you (verse 29).
Unfortunately, in politics, character attacks are often reciprocal. When one candidate attacks, the other candidate will answer with another attack—often even more vicious and personal.
But this kind of behavior is wrong, period. It doesn’t matter if someone is president or running for the office—answering evil with evil is carnal behavior. Notice these scriptures:
- “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17).
- “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
- “Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
Tragically, it is practically impossible to run for high office in our world today and genuinely practice this principle—even though those who live by this principle are the kind of people we need as leaders.
In Galatians 5:19-21 the apostle Paul listed traits he labeled as “the works of the flesh”—essentially 17 examples of carnality found in human beings. Consider how some of them perfectly relate to our politics today:
Hatred: Do we see good will and congeniality in our politics, or do political opponents often express open hatred and contempt for each other?
Contentions: Do politicians engage in contention through attack and slander?
Dissensions: Is not politics about organizing against those who think differently?
Envy: Do not politicians envy political power so much they are willing to destroy their opposition’s reputation in any way they can?
So what is the lesson for you and me?
If there is a person we disagree with or consider to be our opponent (or enemy), we should not engage in attacks or smear their reputation. Instead, we should practice kindness and forgiveness. The apostle Paul wrote: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification [building up]” (Ephesians 4:29).
Researching an opponent’s past mistakes and trumpeting those mistakes in ads and speeches to discredit the opponent is hardly “necessary edification.” The proper Christian approach is: “He who covers a transgression [of another] seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends” (Proverbs 17:9).
Can we imagine one of the presidential candidates discovering a past mistake or flaw in his opponent’s past and intentionally deciding to practice this principle and leave it in the past, not using it as an attack? That scenario seems impossible to imagine—yet it is a standard God expects us to live by.
Unfortunately, politicians would likely claim the above cannot realistically be applied in modern politics—and they’re probably right. That is why Christians should seriously consider whether they can, in good conscience, participate in any part of the political process.
2. Ignore your weaknesses and deny you’re wrong.
If you have ever watched a presidential debate, you can see very clearly how political candidates respond to attacks on their character and record. It is very simple:
- Do not acknowledge or address the issue that was raised.
- Counter with an even greater flaw of your opponent.
When we are confronted with genuine wrongdoings on our part, we should be introspective and carefully consider if there is truth to the accusation.In the presidential election four years ago, this scenario was played out when a candidate was confronted about explicit comments he had made about women years earlier. In his answer, he diminished the seriousness of his past comments and then brought up the past sexual infidelities of his opponent’s spouse. It is a classic human reaction when confronted with our own wrongs—ignore and deflect.
This approach goes all the way back to the first human beings. When God confronted Adam about eating the forbidden fruit, his first response was to ignore his sin and deflect responsibility by focusing on the greater guilt of his wife, Eve (Genesis 3:12). Eve, likewise, tried to deflect fault by blaming the serpent (verse 13).
So what is the lesson for you and me?
When we are confronted with genuine wrongdoings on our part, instead of attempting to deflect attention by countering with another person’s mistakes, we should be introspective and carefully consider if there is truth to the accusation. If, in fact, there is, we should admit our wrongdoing and genuinely commit to true repentance and change: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
3. When necessary, lie.
Lying is something that seems to be part and parcel of running for political office. Oftentimes, when candidates are faced with something positive about their opponent, they will answer with a fabrication of the facts. They will twist the fact about their opponent to portray it as a negative.
And when confronted with their own past failure or something negative about themselves, they will embellish it to present it as a success, blame it entirely on factors outside their control, or refuse to acknowledge it ever happened.
Even when candidates don’t directly lie, they often allow their subordinates and supporters to spread untruths for them.
Could candidates seriously compete for higher office in today’s world if they were resolutely committed to speaking truth at all times (and requiring that same standard of their subordinates and supporters)? The sad truth is that it is probably impossible.
But for those who take the Bible seriously, lying should never be considered necessary. We understand the 10 Commandments define it as sin (Exodus 20:16). There are many scriptures that emphasize how important it is for us to always be honest and truthful in our communications. Here are a few:
- “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies shall perish” (Proverbs 19:9).
- “These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor” (Zechariah 8:16).
- “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
- “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
We can’t control what our leaders do, but we can commit ourselves to this standard and always strive to be honest and truthful in what we say. For more insight into the topic of lying, read our article “Lying vs. Telling the Truth.”
The alternative to politics
A sad reality of our society is that in order to attain elected office, one must engage in unchristian behavior. We have just shown three examples—but many more could be cited. The reality is that modern politics and Christianity are entirely incompatible. This is one reason why Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Because Jesus was uncompromising in His fidelity to truth and righteousness, He remained separate from the politics of His day.
Judean society in the first century was just as divided politically as our world today—in some ways, even more so. Instead of just two parties fighting each other, Jesus lived in a society that had many more factions struggling for influence and power. They had a far right (the Pharisees) and a far left (the Herodians), as well as radicals (Zealots) and fringe ultraconservative groups (the Essenes).
Not only should we commit ourselves to the same standard, we should also consider that God’s Word warns us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). That’s why Life, Hope & Truth avoids politics and instead proclaims the message about the Kingdom Jesus said is “not from here”—a message about a new, righteous government that will be established at the return of Jesus Christ.
That government will end the petty politics of today and replace it with a government based on truth, justice and perfect leadership.
For more insight on how Jesus views modern politics, read “Who Would Jesus Vote For?”