In the midst of a heated campaign season, it is important to understand there is a difference between religious and political realities. The intents differ, and thus the approaches to achieving those goals vary, as well. And yet, the bottom line is that whether the arena is church, politics, work environment, neighborhood, school, home, etc., when people relate to other people there are some basic tenets that most of us wish would be consistently honored.
Certainly a quality most people desire from others is respect. That does not mean we always agree with one another, but it does mean we honor the other person's right to have an opinion (even if it varies from our own). We value the other person as an individual, whether or not we see all issues from the same vantage point. And the extent to which we value another is made visible in how we deal with that person. Can we maintain civility? Can we be polite? Can we express (and defend) our positions without demeaning the humanity of someone else who dares to disagree with us? Can we articulate our ideas without becoming adversarial or bullying another? Those are basic expectations inherent in Christianity. Those of us within that faith system are not given the authority to edit out certain demands that are clearly stated in our Book of Faith. "Speak the truth in love." (Ephesians 4:15) "Love your enemy, and pray for those who despitefully use you." (Matthew 5:44) "This is my commandment, that you love one another even as I have loved you." (John 15:12) Those are not voluntary initiatives. They are, instead, commands that call us to lives of mutual respect and civility. Other sourcebooks of other faiths contain similar statements that also appear in the form of commands.
At the end of the day (or the end of the campaign), faith and politics confront us with at least two important issues. First, can we take actions in future campaigns to insure what the vast majority of us claim to desire - that politicians will move away from vitriol and hate-driven rhetoric to a fair and honest discussion of the issues confronting our nation and world? Whether on national, state, or local levels, persons running for office desire to lead us. An important component of that is leading by example. If the example they provide is anger and hostility, then they have forsaken their right to complain when the populace becomes angry or militant. Lead by example. Can those running for office model for us what civil discourse looks like? Can they show us what it means to discuss, debate, and discern without adding fire to a global landscape already burning with hatred and violence? Maybe it is up to people of faith to honor our faith by demanding that future campaigns deal more with issues and less with vitriol.
The second place where our faith confronts us politically is in the voting booth itself. If the question, "Who represents my party?' takes precedence over, "Who represents my faith?," then our priorities are clear. Talk as fervently as we may about being faithful Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc., if we vote for candidates who are at odds with our faith values because they represent our political party, then a more subtle but alarming vote has been cast. We have voted for partisanship over God. Every faith system is replete with stories of persons who made that mistake, and the consequences are inevitably disturbing. Therefore, from my specific faith perspective as a Christian, my first responsibility on entering the voting booth is not to ask, "Who is the Republican or Democratic candidate for this office?" My first responsibility is to ask, "Which of these candidates, regardless of political affiliation, most closely represents what I understand to be the teachings and mandates of Jesus?" There's really no wiggle room. The teachings of Jesus were not always easy, nor do they always easily connect with the positions of particular candidates. But they are still the teachings of Jesus, and either they are more important to me than a candidate's political affiliation or they are not essentially important at all.
Soon this particular campaign season will be over. That is not an unpleasant thought to most of us. But another campaign will follow, and others after that. There must be a better way to practice this system than to base our choices on anger and attacks. I don't think we can look to the politicians to create that way. Instead, the time has come for them to be looking to us.
The author is Senior Minister of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. The church is the oldest Protestant organization in North America in continuous service and has a global following online - with worshipers in 47 countries connecting through its live-streamed services._
Follow Dr. Michael B. Brown on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revmbbrown