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Attack ad on President Obama rejected

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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President Barack Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office, April 14, 2010 (Credit: White House/Pete Souza)

Does it seem to you that politics get more negative every election?

A $10 million public relations campaign that would connect Barack Obama with Jeremiah Wright has been in the news recently.  This morning, former presidential candidate Herman Cain is calling such a strategy “fair game.” However, Mitt Romney has rejected it, as did John McCain four years ago.  After Mr. Romney’s decision, the group abandoned their plan.  But will others on both sides of the campaign take its place?

With the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to allow unlimited funding of political action committees, we will likely see more money spent on attack ads than ever before in history.  Not to mention the impact that social media campaigns may have.  Facebook shares begin trading today, a sale that is predicted to value the company at $100 billion; Twitter is expected to double in the U.S. by 2014.  How will such platforms be used for negative campaigning?

Why are our politics so destructive?  What does the nature of our campaigns say about our culture?

Several years ago, when we were launching our ministry, I spoke with a longtime friend who has spent his career helping churches and ministries develop strategic plans.  I explained that we would exist to speak truth to culture.  My friend then asked a surprising question: Who will be your enemy?

He explained that to attract followers today, you need to do three things: (1) convince people that they have an enemy that threatens them; (2) convince them that they cannot defeat this enemy, but you can; (3) convince them that if they join your movement, you will defeat their enemy for them.  Was he right?  Whether the enemy is radicals on the left or right, secularists or religious demagogues, isn’t our public discourse dominated by “us” vs. “them”?  Since angry citizens are more likely to vote, negative campaigns are effective in a negative culture.

How would Jesus run for president?  He would ask us to judge his opponents by their works (Matthew 7:16-20), but he would not slander them or lie about them (Matthew 15:19).  If they attacked him, he would love them and pray for them (Matthew 5:44).  In short, he would treat others as he would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

How do Jesus’ campaign principles apply to the relationships and conflicts you’ll encounter today?  When I was in high school, our youth group often sang a chorus that ended, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  Will they?