How can Christians respond redemptively to election turmoil? 

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How can Christians respond redemptively to election turmoil? 

June 27, 2024 -

Clasped hands in prayer on top of an American flag. By 4Max/stock.adobe.com

Clasped hands in prayer on top of an American flag. By 4Max/stock.adobe.com

Clasped hands in prayer on top of an American flag. By 4Max/stock.adobe.com

Three months before the 1864 election, President Abraham Lincoln wrote, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected.” By November, however, he carried the election with ease, claiming 212 electoral votes to anti-war Democrat George B. McClellan’s 21 and winning the popular vote by more than 400,000.

One significant reason was that, by election day, nineteen Northern states had passed legislation allowing soldiers to vote from the field. Seventy-eight percent of the military men who exercised their right to vote absentee opted for Lincoln. By contrast, only 54 percent of civilians voted for the incumbent.

The decision to allow soldiers to vote absentee was highly contentious: states with Republican majorities approved such voting, while states with Democratic majorities did not. Claims of fraud and suppression of Democratic soldiers’ votes were widespread.

Historians commonly rank Abraham Lincoln as our greatest president. If the democratic process by which he was reelected was this controversial, we should not be surprised that the current election is contentious.

The House of Representatives decided the elections of 1800 and 1824. The 1876 election was rife with corruption and back-room deals. The 2000 election was decided when the Supreme Court ended recounts and George W. Bush won Florida, and thus the presidency, by 537 votes out of about six million cast in the state.

Our often-controversial elective process mirrors the democracy it empowers. We have no political caste system and no succession by heredity. Candidates from wealthy families and candidates from impoverished backgrounds have been elected president. A system that enables everyone who meets constitutional requirements to run for elective office and that encourages every citizen to vote and to participate in the process will inevitably prompt dissension and divisions.

Such divisions are especially exacerbated these days. Studies have found that liberals and conservatives are so different today that they use different words to express similar ideas. Scientists have even discovered that partisanship impacts how our brains process words and political messages, meaning that political alignments have something to do with how our brains function.

No matter who wins the 2024 presidential election, democracy will remain challenging. How should Christians respond redemptively to election turmoil?

Let’s consider three biblical priorities.

Be the hands of Jesus 

Everywhere we turn, we see needs Christians are called to meet:

  • We are called to pray for the sick (James 5:13–16) and meet their needs with our compassion (Matthew 10:8; cf. Acts 3:1–10).
  • We are called to care for the poor (cf. Proverbs 19:17; 1 John 3:17).
  • We are to work for equality (cf. Acts 10:34; Galatians 3:28).

You and I are metaphorically and literally the hands of Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27). As the temple of his Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), we are the physical expression of Jesus’ continued earthly ministry.

In his seminal work, The Gospel of the Kingdom, theologian George Eldon Ladd writes: “The gospel is the supernatural redeeming gospel of Jesus Christ, and the kingdom is to be established by the church’s proclamation of the gospel. The gospel must not only offer a personal salvation in the future tense to those who believe; it must also transform all of the relationships of life here and now and thus cause the kingdom of God to prevail in all the world. The gospel of redeeming grace has the power to save the social, economic and political orders as well as the souls of individual believers.” 

The greater the need, the greater the opportunity for God’s word and grace.

Be gracious to those with whom you disagree 

In Kindly Inquisitors, author Jonathan Rauch advises that “we should all take seriously the idea that we might be wrong. That means we must place no one, including ourselves, beyond the reach of criticism (no final say); it means that we must allow people to err, even where the error offends and upsets, as it often will.”

However, Rauch describes himself as “an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual.” His statement betrays the postmodern relativism of our day. We should all get along since we might all be wrong. In a culture that rejects objective truth, tolerance is what we have left.

By contrast, Christians know that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and is “truth” (John 17:17). The psalmist testified, “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6). We know that “every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5).

As a result, for those with whom we disagree over biblical truth, we cannot be gracious on the grounds that “we might be wrong.” This is adamantly not because we are better than others, but because God’s word is true. The old adage, “God says it, I believe it, and that settles it,” is better stated, “God says it and that settles it, whether I believe it or not.”

While we cannot compromise on biblical truth, we can be gracious in how we share this truth with others. In fact, we must. If we answer the biblical mandate to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15a), we must also answer the biblical mandate to “do it with gentleness and respect” (v. 15b).

Respectfully I Disagree In my book, Respectfully, I Disagree: How to Be a Civil Person in an Uncivil Time, I offer practical ways to express such civility. For example, we are to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) so that we can manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” and civility: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).

Jesus taught us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). In other words, we are not allowed to talk about people with whom we disagree but to them. Such a stance eliminates slander (Psalm 101:5) and gossip (Proverbs 26:20).

How different would our divisive culture be if everyone obeyed this simple precept?

Pray for our leaders 

Paul was adamant: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1–2). This despite the fact that the Roman kings for whom he sought intercession were among the most ungodly and corrupt leaders in history. One of them, in fact, eventually ordered Paul’s execution.

From the apostle’s day to ours, Christians have been called to pray for our leaders, whoever they are. The more we disagree with them on personal, political, and policy grounds, the more they need our intercession.

Writing for Christianity Today, Bonnie Kristian suggests that “for those whose candidate lost, we should pray for calm, endurance, and comfort in what may be a moment of real fear.” Conversely, “for those whose candidate won, we should pray for responsibility, humility, and grace.”

She adds that we should pray for the new president to have wisdom in selecting staff and advisers. We should note that “prayers for peace are needed, because our Constitution assigns the president perhaps his most unfettered power in the conduct of war—and its conclusion.” We should remember that “some policies of every presidency, whether at war or at home, inflict unjust harms,” so “we should pray for our president’s victims, for their receipt of justice and restoration.”

She concludes that while the president is not “our exemplar, the life around which we conform our own,” we should “pray that discipleship will cultivate in us any of his virtues we admire—and that sanctification will excise from us any of his vices we revile.”

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How can Christians trust God in difficult days? 

Let’s close by focusing on our personal lives and faith. Whoever wins this year’s election, our nation will continue to face enormous challenges. How do we turn to God for the strength and hope we need each day?

I suggest three keys to reframing obstacles as opportunities and challenges as invitations to hope.

One: Look back 

God advises us: “Take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:12).

The 1918 pandemic killed more than 675,000 Americans in a nation of 103 million. In a nation of 328 million, this would equate to more than 2.1 million deaths. God sustained our nation through World War I, the pandemic, the Great Depression, World War II, and all that followed.

When we look back at what God has done, we can find the hope to trust him for what he will do.

Two: Look up 

Our Father encourages us: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Paul added: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Thus we can claim 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” When we look up to who God is, we find the hope to trust him for all that we need.

Three: Look around 

Our Lord’s call is clear: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis wrote: “I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.”

When we look back at what God has done, we can see his help.

When we look up at who he is, we can see his heart.

Then, when we look around, we can extend his hands to a hurting world.

Conclusion 

In 1923, the Pledge of Allegiance read, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1954, responding to the Communist threat of the day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God.”

As a result, millions of schoolchildren now pledge allegiance each school day to “one nation under God, indivisible.”

Here’s the problem: many of us learned to recite the pledge with a pause between “one nation” and “under God.” Such a comma separates our unity as a nation from our faith in the Lord.

With this comma in place, we cannot truly be “one nation.” We cannot be “indivisible” in the face of deepening divisions and escalating dissension. Unless we find unity in the sovereignty and grace of our Creator, we will find it nowhere else.

When George Washington took the inaugural oath as our first president, he added the pledge, “So help me God.”

To the degree that we are “one nation under God,” with no comma, we will be “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

So, pray for Americans to be “one nation,” to be united no matter the outcome of this election. As Abraham Lincoln noted (quoting Mark 3:25), “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

And pray for us to be one nation “under God,” surrendered to his word and his will in our souls and our lives.

Then, as you pray, answer your prayer personally.

Are you “one nation” with your fellow Americans today?

Have you been slandering a candidate or a fellow citizen?

Has your attitude been godly?

Is there a relationship you must restore?

Are you “under God” today?

Is your life fully surrendered to Jesus as Lord?

Can he use your time, talents, and treasure as he wishes?

Do you belong to him?

Robert Louis Stevenson observed, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end in life.”

Let’s pray and work to this “end” for ourselves and our nation, to the glory of God.

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