By Gene Burrus
The outcome of the 2020 election is important to many of us. But even more so than who wins the election, I’m more concerned with how Christians (including myself) interact with other people in the leadup to and aftermath of the election. Our tone, our attitude, our insults, our slander, our rage and our misrepresentations may estrange people with everlasting souls.
Am I saying that we should keep our values to ourselves? No, our prophetic voices are important. Consider these six principles as you navigate political conversations.
1. Christians, especially Southern Baptists, have a role to play in the social order.
We have beliefs and values to express in the public square. Article 15 of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M 2000) states:
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
Combating greed or abortion, racism or abuse, euthanasia or selfishness, we have a responsibility to challenge the evils in our culture. Yet, we remember that “means and methods” to improve our society (e.g., voting) can only have a lasting effect “when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.” The most important political platform is the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ.
2. Social media and news distort truth and amplify the evils of the human heart.
Al Mohler has insightfully observed that social media has “a great distortion reality field.” Don’t go to social media for truth; in a sense, it stimulates delusion and psychosis. Not only do algorithms learn our preferences for outrage, but light-speed human interaction without human voices and human bodies tempts us to forget that we are engaging fellow image-bearers.
The way in which news is microtargeted in our information age fragments truth and invites little counterpoint. Political news appeals to powerful primary emotions: fear, anger and disgust. Have you noticed that many on social media are convinced that their position is The Truth? Believing they have The Truth, they conclude every dissenter must be inept (or worse).
But even believers are susceptible to noetic sin: our views often need further conformity to Christ, who actually is The Truth. Even more so, Christians must be careful of the tongue (James 3). After all, “what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matt 15:18 CSB).
3. We should consume news and social media prayerfully and wisely.
As Ad Fontes Media’s chart depicts, news varies by bias and reliability. Many of us with conservative values are aware that most television and print news sources skew politically left. Less obvious may be the quality of the plethora of progressive and conservative news sources that have recently come onto the scene. More extreme sources on both sides amount to propaganda.
As we consume media, the Proverbs instruct us: “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him” (Prov 18:17 CSB). The finitude of human perspectives leads us to ask:
- What am I missing from this story I’m reading?
- What’s another perspective?
- Are they accurately representing all sides of an issue?
4. If we are to be rejected by the world, let it be for our beliefs (especially our love for Christ) and values, not for our vitriol.
According to Robert Jones’s book, human anger can be righteous or sinful. Anger begins with an interpretation, a judgment. When our interpretations, perceptions, and evaluations are polluted by sin, our anger is as well. How often do we emulate the holy judgment and anger of Christ cleansing the temple? Or, do we more often than not issue visceral judgments, imitating Peter’s anger and cutting off the ears of our enemies?
The BF&M 2000 exhorts us to be “careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising” our “loyalty to Christ and His truth.” As we articulate our values and the truths we hold dear, we must saturate them with love. Gentle political answers turn away wrath, but harsh words foment political hostility (cf. Prov 15:1).
5. We can express our values to our friends and followers without compromising “righteousness, truth and brotherly love.”
Will a few people unfriend or unfollow us if we share that we believe in the sanctity of human life, historic Christian marriage or the integrity of one’s birth sex? Perhaps. But what if wasn’t what we said. Wouldn’t it be more tragic if it wasn’t our doctrine but our tone or our attitude that alienated them? How often we forget that we are ambassadors for another political realm; we are in the business of reconciliation, not alienation (2 Cor 5:18-20). Every action we take and word we speak means that we must be diplomatic.
It is foolish to believe that we can change anyone’s mind through insults, manipulation, bitterness and sour discourse. If our talk isn’t saturated with love, we will drive people away from the truth. Effective, prayerful persuasion must engage the mind, the heart and the conscience. We must ask ourselves: Do we want to win a political argument, or do we want to win a soul (cf. 1 Cor 9:22-23)?
6. We get can get mean on social media because we’re desperate; let’s pray instead.
As the distance between Western culture and historic Christianity increases, our sense of dissonance can easily turn into panic. My pastor recently challenged our church: “How much time do you spend praying for the current President? If you pray for him, how much did you spend time praying for the last one?” Let’s follow the example of our spiritual ancestors and pray so that “we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim 2:2 ESV).
With all of these points in mind, three texts can shape our use of social media until November 3 and beyond:
- Galatians 5: Let’s put on the fruit of the Spirit when we engage others. Bearing the fruit of gentleness and self-control is our spiritual birthright.
- Matthew 6: Let’s seek the kingdom when anxiety about our nation’s future causes us to despair. Can we add a single hour to our lives with anxious posts?
- 1 Timothy 2:1-4: Let’s pray for our politicians of every political leaning and desire that all people come to the truth.