By Jonathon Soder, Faith Co-Editor
Last week OBU students had the opportunity to participate in the seminal event of the democratic process – voting. While this election included no voter riots or protests outside Raley Chapel, countless national elections in years past have resulted in lessthan-cordial discussions nation-wide.
In today’s society, where voters have instant and unhindered access to the national stage via social media, how can we talk about politics without resorting to name-calling and yelling?
Dr. Sherri Raney, professor of history and political science, said that we must resist having the mindset that individuals who vote opposite of us are evil.
“I think that we have a contempt problem in this country,” Raney said. “And I’m not the first person to notice that. We don’t respect other people fundamentally. We hold other people in contempt, beneath us, for a lot of different reasons. When we start off with that attitude of having this contempt, disdain, for people who disagree with us, then there’s really not much point in having a conversation.”
Dr. Galen Jones, chair of Christian leadership, said that the best way Christians can avoid yelling matches is to do what the Bible says and not jump to the conclusions Raney said we’re prone to embrace.
“Seek to understand rather than to be understood,” Jones said.
Jones said that, by taking time to learn about someone else’s background, experiences and why they think the way they do, it will become easier to understand why they vote the way they do.
“If I only think about what I think is right in a politician, or what we’re voting for or the larger issues, then we’ll never really have a way to engage one another,” Jones said.
One stumbling block in political conversations, which leads to heated encounters, is the tendency of voters to fixate on one particular issue. Different issues will be of different levels of importance to individuals depending on their age, gender, race, locale, etc.
“For instance, a lot of white evangelicals focus on abortion,” Jones said. “Evangelicals who are African American don’t necessarily believe in abortion, but what we think about is the life that we have now. My life right now matters. I should value the life of that unborn child, but in the case of the police, we don’t see them the same because they’re not my friend.”
“And so, we need to be able to hear that from one another to understand that the legitimacy of my experience is just that – it’s legitimate and yours is as well.”
Another issue with fixating on particular policies is the reality that, perhaps despite a politician’s best intentions, some policies are administered unequally or in a manner not intended by the policy-maker. One example, Jones said, is welfare.
“Over 55 percent of all the caseload of welfare is white rural people. So, the picture of the welfare mother is not a black single woman. It really is a married, rural white woman,” Jones said.
“But in urban areas there is a policy or a practice of a ‘no man in the house’ rule. If your family is on welfare, then there’s not supposed to be a man there because, in essence, the government is supplying those things.”
Since focusing on one policy can present problems, Raney said that we should instead take the whole of a political candidate’s platform into consideration as well as considering the candidate’s credentials.
“The most important thing [a politician should have] is experience in politics,” Raney said.
While this will differ for student government because SGA is often the first stepping-stone into politics, aspiring career politicians will understand the process of government better if they participate locally and at the state level first Raney said.
Jones said that one thing Christians specifically should look for in a candidate is “fidelity to the gospel.” However, with fewer Christians surviving on the national stage, Christians must remember that their ultimate authority is Christ and that voting isn’t a Christian right or necessity.
“We have become confused that America is a Christian nation,” Jones said. “It never was, never has been and never will be. It’s not called as that; it wasn’t created as that.”
An issue or candidate can blind individuals to the humanity of others. On example of this misconception is the idea that the founding fathers were all Christian. However, neither Benjamin Franklin nor George Washington were Christian men. Franklin, though he grew up in a Calvinist-Christian home, became a deist; Washington, though he attended church services with his wife, would always get up and leave when communion was taken.
“We have what I and others call ‘euphoric recall,’” Jones said. “We do, as Christians, with our government, what we are never supposed to do with our Bible, which is called eisegesis; we read back into it from our own lens and perspective.”
“If we look at it for what it actually was – if we exegete history and the founders – you’ll find out they weren’t talking about the same Christian identity that we understand as Evangelicals.”
With the understanding that America isn’t bound by necessity to Christian morals, Jones said that Christians in America are supposed to fill a prophetic role in their location just as the prophets fulfilled their role in the place God called them to.
“We are to speak for God whether the politician ‘Christian’ is doing that or not,” Jones said. “I think we have to take the onus away from voting.”
This will open conversation up not only in the public sphere, but also in the context of the Church where differences in opinion can be misconstrued as a lack of proper faith.
Raney said that we must have respect for one another when having political conversations and follow the Golden Rule. Devotion to a single issue or candidate can blind individuals to the humanity of others.
Jones said there’s one more thing Christians specifically must remember: “Your candidate is not the Messiah.”