Election Season and Your Soul


This is an intensely pastoral post. (It’s essentially the sermon notes of a message I shared with my church on Friday night, July 6.)

I understand my pastoral vocation as something like being a doctor of the soul. I am to tend to the well-being of human souls entrusted to me by Christ.

Be responsive to your pastoral leaders.
Listen to their counsel.
For they watch out for your souls.
-Hebrews 13:17

Over the past twelve years I’ve become increasingly aware of how damaging an excessive political passion is to the human soul. Put simply, too much politics hinders the capacity for love—and love is the purpose of the human soul. We are created to love God and one another—this is the essence of human flourishing.

But every four years a kind of madness comes upon us in America—a political mania that is becoming increasingly acrimonious and bitter. All of this is damaging to the soul. So with this in mind I would like to share with you a Ten Point Christian Voters’ Guide. (No, not that kind…a much different kind.)

1. The political process, while necessary, has little to do with how God is saving the world.

For more on this point go here: The Church as an Alternative Society

2. The fate of the kingdom of God does not depend upon political contests.

Don’t be swept away by apocalyptic political rhetoric. It is what it is. Another election cycle. Jesus is Lord no matter who wins the Big American Idol contest and gets their turn at playing Caesar.

3. Don’t be naïve, political parties are more interested in Christian votes than they are in Christian values.

Do you doubt this? Thought Experiment: Imagine if Jesus went to Washington D.C. Imagine that he is invited to give a speech to a joint session of Congress. (He’s Jesus after all, and I’m sure the senators and congressmen would be delighted to hear a speech from the founder of the world’s largest religion—it would confer great dignity upon the institution.) Imagine that the speech Jesus gave was his most famous sermon—the Sermon on the Mount. Can you imagine that? Jesus is introduced. (Standing ovation.) He stands before Congress and begins to deliver his speech. “Blessed are the poor…the mourners…the meek.” “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” After some perfunctory applause early on, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot of squirming senators and congressmen. The room would sink into a tense silence. And when Jesus concluded his speech with a prophecy of the inevitable fall of the house that would not act upon his words (Matthew 7:26–27), what would Congress do? Nothing. They could not act. To act on Jesus’ words would undo their system. In the end, the U.S. Congress would no more adopt the policies Jesus set out in the Sermon on the Mount than they were adopted by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the Roman Senate. The Jesus Way and the Politics of Power don’t mix.

4. The bottom line for political parties is power. The bottom line for a Christian is love. And therein lies the rub.

The problem with our “change the world” rhetoric is that it is too often a thinly veiled grasp for power and a quest for dominance—things which are antithetical to the way Jesus calls his disciples to live. A politicized faith feeds on a narrative of perceived injury and lost entitlement leading us to blame, vilify and seek to in some way retaliate against those we imagine responsible for the loss in late modernity of a mythical past. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche as a critic of Christianity identified as ressentiment and it drives much of the Christian quest for political power.

5. While in pursuit of the Ring of Power, you are not permitted to abandon the Sermon on the Mount.

When the world is arranged as an axis of power enforced by violence, the pursuit of power trumps everything. But in the new world created at the cross (an axis of love expressed by forgiveness), love trumps everything. The Sermon on the Mount is our guide to this new kind of love. Among other things, this means you cannot deliberately portray your political opponents in the worst possible light. (Attack ads? Remember the Golden Rule?) Jesus also taught us that if you call someone you disagree with a “fool” you are liable to the “Gehenna of fire.” I might put it this way: When your political rage causes you to hurl epithets like “fool” and “idiot”—you are kindling the fires of hell in your own soul!

6. If your political passion makes it hard for you to love your neighbor as yourself, you need to turn it down a notch.


7. Your task is to bring the salt of Christian civility to an ugly and acrimonious political process.

If you cannot contribute to the redemption of the political process, but are instead being contaminated by it, then you are salt that has lost its savor…and what’s the point?

8. To dismember the body of Christ over politics is a grievous sin.

This business of denying that someone is true brother or sister in Christ based upon their politics is horrible and must be repented of! It is no small sin. When the Corinthian church carried their class divisions to the communion table, the Apostle Paul said, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Don’t do it!

9. Exercise your liberty to vote your conscience and conviction, while accepting that other Christians will do the same and vote differently than you.

There are committed Christians who conscientiously vote Republican. And there are committed Christians who conscientiously vote Democratic. This is true. You simply have to accept it.

10. It’s more important that your soul be filled with love than it is for your political team to win the game.

If your team loses, the sun will come up and life will go on. But if you damage your soul by succumbing to politically motivated vitriol that causes love to whither, you would have been better off to have never got yourself politically entangled in the first place.

I leave you with this…

Love is patient and kind.
Love does not envy or boast.
Love is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing,
Love rejoices with the truth.
Love bears and believes all things.
Love hopes and endures all things.
Love never fails.

This is what the Apostle Paul calls the “more excellent way.”
It is the way of Christ.
It is the holy way of love.
It is the way we are called to.
It is the way of human flourishing.
And if you have to choose between love and politics—choose love.