If every political season is tumultuous, perhaps there is an even less flattering word to describe this one. By almost every account, the presidential race that began last fall has turned into something ugly and unprecedented.
And, according to an article in the New York Post, the two major party candidated—Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—are the most despised candidates in history. Clinton is “strongly disliked” by more than 37 percent of all voters, and Trump is “strongly unfavorable” by almost 52 percent.
Much of this negativity surrounds the public perception of their characters.
Trump’s off-hand remarks and previous business deals have labeled him a “racist,” “egomaniac” and “fraud.” Hillary’s apparent contradictory statements and investigation by the FBI have labeled her a “liar,” “cheater” and “criminal.” With such strong terminology, the candidates have evolved into caricatures in the eyes of the American public. They are seen to not only possess undesirable qualities, but to in fact embody them. They are each representations of the things that polarized factions of Americans hate.
In last night’s vice presidential debate, Tim Kaine (Clinton) and Mike Pence (Trump) did their best to frame these detractions from their running mates as favorably as possible. As hard as they tried, you can’t help but notice that most of the night centered not around policies or political issues as much as “My candiate isn’t that bad” and “My candidate isn’t as bad as yours.”
Certainly, these presidential hopefuls are deserving of criticism and concern—the position they’re vying for warrants a high level of scrutiny.
However, we have to prevent our criticisms from reaching characterizations, a view that sees subconsciously labels another as less than human.
When Jesus told his followers to “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), he was not excluding political enemies. In fact, this may have been specifically who he had in mind. At this time, the Jews were under harsh occupation by the Roman Empire. Jesus’ words would have been a tough pill to swallow.
And it’s one we must take today.
Civil discourse is tricky business in our modern society. Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets make name-calling and disrespect an everyday occurrence. Easy access to news articles and websites allow people to spread disparaging and critical information without the integrity required to defend it. Political candidates become scapegoats and demons without a second thought or benefit of the doubt.
As a result, this characterization further polarizes the public and creates an apocalyptic narrative of panic and terror. The prospect of either candidate winning the presidency is viewed by the opponent’s followers as “the end of America as we know it.” But what if this prediction, when it comes from fear and hate, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? After all, policy doesn’t produce corruption—but corruption that produces policy. The real test for America may not be the side we choose, but how we choose to do it.
As Christians, our status as citizens of another land should inform our decisions as citizens of America. This refers much less to policy than it does social discourse and personal character.
We must exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control toward our fellow Americans, including those running for office. And the people who might support the candidate we less favor.
At the end of the day, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—your Republican neighbor, your Democrat coworker—are both human beings created in the image of God. Each of them should be treated in the same manner that Jesus treated those with whom he interacted. Sometimes this was with harsh rebuke, and other times it was with unfathomable mercy. However, each time it was done out of love for the person he was addressing. Our words and actions during the political season ought be no different.
Christians should rightfully criticize wrongdoing and make their voices known in the public square. But we are called to be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). This means weighing the evidence, not jumping to conclusions, and looking for the redemptive qualities in others. Doing so will not only honor the image of God in those we critique, but will also stand out as a “city on a hill” in the midst of dark and ugly political banter.
No matter what our political affiliation, our highest call is for Christ to be glorified.