by Billy Schmuck, Resonate Pullman member
When I was growing up I could always make my little sister laugh. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but eventually, I figured out the phrase “don’t laugh” would set her further down the road to breathless belly laughing. Eventually, I didn’t have to do anything other than say the words “don’t laugh” and laughter would erupt. Many times she’d be close to hyperventilating and plead with me to stop. Like a good older brother, I’d say with a very serious voice “ok, just breathe, and whatever you do, don’t laugh.”
Clearly, I only ever used my older-brother powers of manipulation for good. The truth is we all learn how to alter the minds of the people around us from the very first time we’re hungry, dirty, or sleepy. Such manipulation can be selfless – like a coach exhorting the self-worth of a teen; for mutual self-interest – like a political party working for the “greater good;” or downright evil – like a collective decision to reach a Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
The most predictable time to watch manipulation on a large scale is during voting season. Passions run high and sometimes open idea exchange, genuine debate, and even logical thought suffer for it. Voting is clearly a civic duty and as such a Christian should not shirk from it (1). When Christ sent out his disciples he told them to be as shrewd as serpents and as gentle as doves. A disciple is not to be naïve but able to recognize manipulation and deceit (but not use such tools – “gentle as doves” remember). So then, how should a follower of Christ see through the smokescreen of lies and deception and make decisions on how to vote? Especially when America is a representative republic, and we thus vote for people to represent us far more often than we vote directly for the laws themselves.
Here are three guiding principles:
1. Do your own research
You will utterly fail in your duty to God and country if you are easily manipulated. One of the easiest ways voting Christians are manipulated is when they are told, and accept without thought, that a Christian should never vote for someone who supports X. Within a representative republic, one should assign weights to all of the topics you care about, and then assess how each candidate stacks up across all categories. You can assign higher weights to topics you feel are more relevant, but the moment you give a subject an effective weight of infinity you have given control of your vote to someone else. There are many life and death issues reflected at the polls and neither current party has a monopoly on the side of life.
2. Do not interpret common knowledge as Biblical wisdom
Another way Christians are manipulated at the polls is when they are told that the Christian perspective is such and such – and they believe it blindly. They believe it without reference to Christ’s teaching, without parsing the context of scripture, or without comprehending the message of God and the meaning of the Gospel. Furthermore, if “Christians” vote this way – the rest of the country then believes that this false message is representative of Christ – thus collectively bearing false witness about God. Open the Bible and look for what it really says. There are over twenty thousand verses in the Bible with whole books dedicated to wisdom, but if you’re new to Christianity and don’t know where to start: start with the red letters indicating the words of Jesus himself.
3. Remember that Christianity was designed to thrive in the margins, not as the majority
Scripture tells Christians to be subject to the rulers of the nation, so clearly, any overt attempt at overthrow is prohibited in normal times. But there are more subtle ways, like an ungentle serpent, that this can be worked toward. Normal political discourse is fine – we’re all part of the collective wisdom called upon to make this republic work. Where Christians can be tempted to cross the line is in the promotion of laws or decisions that go against the US Constitution or attempt to make Christianity the law of the land. This has taken many forms including manipulating zoning laws, imposing morality, or dictating school curriculum. The world sees this, judges it accurately as deceit and hypocrisy, and heartbreakingly labels those as Christian characteristics.
Finally, we cannot forget the higher reality that we actually do live in a country where every man and woman is subject to death. Death reigns and has sentenced every aspect of life to itself. Only the actions and message of Christ can set one free. Once we call him Lord we exchange death for His kingdom. Like those we vote for, we ourselves are representatives, and our representation is of a greater kingdom. So when you vote, just breathe, and cast your ballot praying for our temporal leaders while knowing your allegiance is to our eternal leader King Jesus Himself.
(1) Addressing the topic of why Christians should vote is outside the scope of this blog entry. Some good places to start in scripture are Matthew 5, Mark 12:13-17, Jeremiah 29:4-7, and Romans 13.
For further reading:
Tim Keller in the New York Times: “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t.”