I can’t watch the political debates for long without feeling sick: So much animosity and ego and bullying and attacking and negativity; so little thoughtful discussion and kindness. The toxic words seep inside my skin and into my emotions. I have to get away from it.
The worst part is when candidates use their “religion” as a justification for all of the ugliness being spewed — when they start trying to one-up the other and convince voters that they, themselves, are true believers who rank right up there on Jesus’ most-favored list.
Reality check: If Jesus had a most-favored list, the ones who put themselves at the top would actually be at the bottom. It’s the whole last-are-first, first-are-last thing.
The way we elect our leaders is so opposed to the religious values we claim to follow.
What would the various political campaigns look like if they actually conformed to Jesus’ values? What if the candidates and the commentators treated everyone the way Jesus treated people?
If that were the case, all of the negativity and nastiness and ego-run-amok would be replaced by:
1. Kindness. How much kindness do we hear during the debates or on those political attack ads that overrun television and radio? How often do we hear kind, tender words coming from politicians? Jesus said the litmus test for knowing who is actually following his way of living comes down to love. People will know that someone is his follower by their love. And Paul connects the dots a bit for those who don’t get it when he writes about what love is, and mentions way up high – second on the list, actually – that love is kind. Always kind. In every circumstance.
2. Respect. Love means respecting differences of opinion and treating each other with the dignity they deserve as an equally beloved child of God. Love means honoring our diversity and recognizing that just because someone sees something a different way, it doesn’t make him evil or bad, just different. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement recognized this in everything they did. They refused to respond to violence – physical or verbal – with more violence because they respected others as God’s children. They didn’t want to hurt them; they wanted to challenge their thinking. And they did it with love.
3. Evolving ideas. We’d take the next step and not only be open to different ideas, but encourage them. That’s how you learn and grow as individuals and as societies. When we really listen to someone else’s point of view – put ourselves in their place and see it from the prism of their experiences – that’s when we begin to grow and change. Remember, Jesus had to grow in wisdom and age and grace. He went around having thoughtful and respectful and kind conversations with anyone who was interested. So must we.
4. Humility. Nobody has a corner on the truth, so we should stop acting like it. Put the bombast away. Get the egos in check. Recognize that our world and our problems are complicated, and nobody has all the answers. And what might be a good answer today could be lacking tomorrow because of how the world changes. We need to be open to acknowledging the times when something that we championed hasn’t worked out as expected. We need to be able to say that we were wrong about this, so let’s try to find the best path forward and adapt as we go.
5. Focus on the needy. Jesus talked about having compassion for the needy more than anything. He called it the hallmark of God’s kingdom. Let’s talk about the needy, too. What can we do to help? What policies work better? What can we do as individuals to help others? Let’s judge our personal health and our society’s health on how much of ourselves we invest in getting food and drink and shelter to those whomever needs it, healing those who are hurting, and making sure that everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God.
6. More doing than debating. Instead of candidates merely claiming they’re Christian, they would start acting like it on the campaign trail. Scrap some of the endless debates and rallies. Follow Pope Francis’ example and go out and meet the needy at every campaign stop. Don’t just rub shoulders with the rich – share everything that you are with the poor. Work at a soup kitchen. Tutor an underprivileged child for an hour. Visit someone in jail. Take a homeless person to lunch and listen to their life story, then try to connect them with housing and a job. Actually live those words about loving one another.
I’m sure you can add your own examples of how our political campaigning would be far different if it actually followed Jesus’ values and example.
So, what do we do about it? Honestly, there’s probably not much we can do to change the candidates or the advisers who are telling them that being nasty will get them elected.
But we can change us.
It starts with refusing to get caught up in all the ugliness and making sure that we are committed to those values when we delve into political discussions on social media, in our families, at our work places and churches. Remember to be kind and respectful and open-minded and loving, even when others are not.
In that way, it changes us. And that’s how bigger change begins, too.