Growing up outside of Washington DC, in a political family, had its pros and cons. The pros were taking field trips to the Smithsonian and driving past the monuments on the way to have lunch with my dad at his office, inside the city limits. Cons would be the insistent political murmur that invaded most conversations and the sense of emergency that surrounded every upcoming legislative vote, appointment and election.
And then, there were the things that just were. They weren’t necessarily good or bad, but they were real—like the fact that politics always hit close to home. Growing up in the suburbs of Washington, you knew that behind every election, every national firestorm, every escalating debate were real people. People who you’ve met, who have gathered to eat dinner at your house, who you’ve even taken vacations with. These people weren’t just suits on a TV screen. They were friends. They were real. They went home to real spouses and tucked in real children, and felt the weight of their ideas and decisions on real shoulders.
When you grow up in the shadow of Washington, you know this. Politics is personal.
This is a complicated thing. Because, as is evidenced by social media, the talking heads on all spectrums of news channels, and the articles appearing on everything from blogs to nationally syndicated newspapers, most of the time politics is not personal at all. Politics is a sport. It’s a chance to stun in our barbs, wound in our carefully worded condemnations and impress in our well-educated defenses and criticisms.
The age of sound bites has made it easy to oversimplify the world by making it black and white—the politicians in our midst oversimplified as well. As a result, we think it’s our right to beat up and tear down the figureheads we disagree with. We let lose our most visceral and mean spirited attacks, never thinking through what it might be like to be the child of the figure we are attacking, reading these words about his or her parent. Or worse, not considering what our own children might think of us, if they saw how cruelly we regarded someone whose politics we oppose.
And now, thanks to the Internet, everyone has an audience to do that to and a platform to do that from. Politics for 99% of the country is a chance to air our opinions under the illusion that this all about policy.
But when you understand politics is personal, you realize, this isn’t simply about a party, a platform or a program. Politics is about individuals. And as easy as it is to believe otherwise, those people we spend our time demonizing, ridiculing, lambasting, and shaming, are actual humans.
Shamefully, in our over zealous effort to point out and advocate for the humanity in
the working class
the economically under privileged and
We have forgotten the humanity of those who’ve given more mental, physical and emotional energy to the political process than we could possibly know, and who are attempting to make our country the best version of itself—even if their version conflicts with ours.
And for those of us who love God and follow Jesus this is no small offense. Because we were called to a higher ethic.
I grew up going to church. For as long as I can remember, I have gotten up on Sunday mornings and gathered with other Christians to hear about the infinite kindness of a loving God whose Son went the greatest lengths imaginable to win back the hearts of the people He created.
The people He created.
See, we can talk all day long about the love God has for the group of people we are championing at the moment. But how quick we are to forget about the image of God found in those representing a politics we disagree with, in those who are the representatives of a political ideology that is not ours.
We don’t have to like them. We don’t have to think they represent good ideas. We can think they are narcissistic, crooked, dangerous, and are single-handedly capable of destroying everything this country stands for. But we don’t get to look at them and dismiss their humanity, snubbing the image of God intrinsic in them. We don’t get to scoff at their personhood when their heavenly Father sees some of Himself in them.
We get to choose something different. Something harder. But also, something better.
We get to choose kindness.
That doesn’t mean we soften our ideals. This doesn’t mean we stand for nothing and fall for everything. It means we start seeing the people on the screen of our TVs, in the feed on our phones, in the subject of the articles, blogs and panels, as human beings, made in the image of God.
What might happen if we did that? What if we saw the opposing candidate with as much humanity as the refugee looking for asylum, and the baby granted no rights until born? What might happen if we saw people as members not simply of a political party, but of a family? As less a picture of every policy they represent and more like a citizen of humanity?
I think the next couple of months might look different. In fact, I pray to God they do. Literally. As someone who made it a point to leave Washington as soon as I had the chance, because of my distaste for political behavior, I’ve spent more time praying about this than anything else lately. So, yes, I pray to God things won’t be politics as usual in the remainder of our election year. Because I know people with skin in this game. I know people who are the dogs in the fight. And they deserve better than what we’ve given them so far. They deserve people willing to stand up, look them in the eye, literally—or via whatever median we have available to us—and say, “I may not agree with one policy you have, I may cringe when you open your mouth, I may not trust a word you say. And yet. I am holding tightly to what I know is true of you. That God made you, God loves you, and I respect and honor that in you.”
I am not saying that on the Wednesday after Election Day we should cross party lines and hold hands singing Kumbaya together. That would be unrealistic. And strange. I’m just saying, we better get our act together. And as Christians we better lead the way.
We can exercise our Constitutional right and vote how we want to vote.
We can exercise our First Amendment right to speak out, and to voice our opinions.
But may we do so cognizant of the law of love, of kindness and grace and of our shared citizenship not only of a country we love, but of a humanity God loves too.