We’ve all heard it said there are two things one should never talk about in social settings – Religion and Politics. And we all know why. These conversations are touchy. They can be divisive. They can get ugly quickly.
But, if you are a Christian and certainly if you are a church planter, you should be consistently breaking this rule, right? After all, as a church planter I’m constantly talking to people about Christianity, Jesus, and the church. But do we adhere to the other half of the rule? Do we talk politics? The Apostles and early church most certainly used the political ideas of Rome when they said, “Jesus is Lord,” because it was a challenge to the slogan, “Caesar is Lord”! And when they shared the “good news” of Jesus, it was opposed to the “good news” offered by the Roman Empire.
So how do we that in a way that helps us in our pursuit of sharing the gospel with the community around us? This is an important question because while avoiding politics during an election campaign is nearly impossible, 2016 has set a record! So, here are a few reminders that have helped me to leverage politics in order to build relationships and to help, not hurt, my Christian witness.
1. Stay founded and focused on the gospel of Jesus
The first thing you need to come to grips with is that the call to go and make disciples is greater than any political opinion you hold. And if you find yourself labeling, demonizing, or looking down on people who have different political views than you, then you have the problem. The problem isn’t that they have misguided political views. The problem is your heart. I say to you what Paul said to Peter: You are “not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel…” (Gal. 2:14, NRSV). Paul realized that Peter’s error was not just a matter of differing opinion on religious tradition, but of actually forgetting the gospel message: That all people are in equal need of the unmerited grace of Jesus Christ, apart from their righteous actions.
You cannot love people you demonize. Every Christian (even pastors), struggle to see people the way God does. Ask God to show you your prejudice, repent, and see people like Jesus does.
2. Converse with lost people
Political conversations are loaded with assumptions. Regardless of your political views, if you are focused on Jesus, then you will challenge those assumptions. To challenge assumptions, you need to be around people who are far from God with whom you disagree politically. People far from God need to see a Christian acting in a way that is counter to the ways of the world and their perceptions of who Christians are.
How did I do this? I was at my local coffee shop and I saw a flyer for a Meet & Greet event for supporters of a certain presidential candidate. And most importantly, it was a candidate that isn’t known for attracting evangelical Christian voters. So my immediate thought was, “I’m going!”
So there I was, at a meeting surrounded by people who were much different than me. Different worldviews; different values; different politics. So of course I immediately began yelling at them about how foolish they were and how wise I was, right? Of course not! I listened, I shared who I was, and I engaged in conversation. Mostly, I asked questions. Not skeptical questions, but open questions. The entire time I was there I kept hearing Paul’s words in my head, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some (1Cor. 9:22).”
3. Build bridges between the political divide
Both political parties touch on themes that are present in the Kingdom of God. And both parties stray significantly from the Kingdom of God, as well. When I’m engaged in a political conversation I find it much more helpful to focus on those commonalities, rather than the shortcomings. In this way you are both affirming the individual’s desire to see the world become a better place, as well as showing how God and Scripture are more relevant than what they might think.
4. Show respect to all people
Be gracious and respectful to everyone, even politicians. Speak to issues, but avoid personal attacks on individuals (Lord, help me.) It is easy to say things about people who live in the public’s light, especially over social media. It is easy to say things electronically that we would not say with our lips. A good rule of thumb is that if I wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, then I shouldn’t say it on Facebook.
Doing these simple things has helped me to build relationships, gain respect, and share my faith in my little corner of the world. The last political meeting I attended, I spent 45 minutes sharing my faith with an atheist philosophy major from a nearby university. At the end of our conversation, we shook hands, smiled, and we both looked forward to meeting again. So, if we can’t avoid politics this year, engage it for the sake of the gospel. Be all things to all people. And let me know how it goes!