Why Defending Our Politicians is Killing Our Spiritual Health

Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, one of the front-running candidates uttered a ridiculous lie. I know, I know, how could I point out just one lie from that era of punch-drunk history? Well, that same day a friend asked me what I thought of said-candidate. I mentioned the ridiculous lie of the day, and my friend retorted, “It wasn’t half as bad as what all the other candidates say.”

Imagine me looking perplexed. 

Shouldn’t we who have yoked ourselves to Christ see lying to an enormous group of people for the sake of personal gain as a universal evil?[1] Surely the actions of others don’t transform an immoral action into a moral action. This line of logic is called moral relativism—the idea that morality can be defined based upon the actions of someone else. Imagine you have two children. You catch one stealing a toy car from a friend and when confronted the child says, “yeah, but my brother stole some ice cream from the grocery store last week.” The child cannot make stealing a toy okay because her brother did something worse. Actions stand and fall based upon their own merit. We all know that’s true. 

And yet, it is also a timeless truth that we tend to be willing to gloss over evil when it comes from someone we support or someone who provides us with gain. Take Isaiah’s incendiary words to the Israelites for example:
Ah, you who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter (Is. 5:20)!
Isaiah denounces the Israelites for a variety of things in his long and very specific book. In his fifth chapter, however, he describes the very phenomenon I’m describing. The Israelites have watched their leaders do evil things: greedily taking land and depriving the poor of their place in Israel (5:8); a daily pursuit of drunkenness (5:11); disregard for God’s teachings (5:12); and a corrupt legal system (5:23). I say “leaders,” here, because these are not actions common people could take, because in ancient agrarian societies common people subsisted on too little to commit most of the crimes listed in Isaiah’s prophetic tirade. And yet, Isaiah announces condemnation for the whole nation: “Therefore my people go into exile without knowledge; their nobles are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst” (5:13).

Ordinary Israelites gave their leaders a blank check by defending their evil actions, passing darkness off as light. Doing so created a rupture in their own relationship with God. That’s what the exile was, after all, a recognition of the fissure Israel’s sin had opened between their nation and God. They wandered away, trading light for darkness and good for evil. 

And so, here we sit in an era not so far removed from the days of Isaiah. We too find ourselves defending immorality, only with sleek keyboards instead of scribbles on scrolls. And I think we too are experiencing a fissure, one that may yet be unconscious, between ourselves and our God who delights in justice and righteousness. 

Might we return to a place where our lips and typing fingers defend what is good? I understand that we live in a society nearly bereft of truly good politicians and that many of us feel obligated to throw in with candidates and parties who we feel are lesser evils. Therefore, I’m not saying we have to vote for perfect people. Voting isn’t really in my view here at all. Vote your conscience, but if your candidate or party of choice turns tail on what is good, do not raise your ire in defense. For that is a very dangerous road.[2]
Instead, let us pursue a slowness toward anger and defensiveness at each week’s political upheaval. Let us ask the cheesy, but correct question: what does Jesus think about this? What might he say? What has he already said? And how might I follow him?

[1] It isn’t lost on me that you’re bound to read this article and think I’m talking about President Trump. Rest assured, whoever’s immoral actions we choose to defend, we do so as a step away from the trajectory of Christ. There’s a whole lot of that going around these days and it is not a blindness unique to President Trump’s supporters. In matters of spiritual health, it is always far more beneficial to look inward and take stock of our own motives than to make a list of debts owed by our opponents.
[2] An afterthought:  consider the Father’s stance toward the prodigal son. I’m not advocating a lack of compassion for public figures who travel wayward roads (or non-famous people in our social circles). Instead, like the Father, we must hold them in our hearts and prayers, while we let them go where they choose, without going with them. And we hope for a day of returning. It’s important to separate love from defense of action. Love waits patiently, without harsh words, and allows self-determination. We can remain in hopeful contact and redemptive connection with all types. Much of my ministry career has taken me into the dark corners of other people’s addictions and this is the paradoxically stark and subtle line I’ve tried to follow in each case. If it's possible in those cases, then surely such a relationship can take shape in any situation.


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