We are living in a time where many do not know who or what to believe. It seems our national 24-hour news media seeks ratings more than they seek truth (regardless of which way their bias leans). Many journalists receive bonuses based on how many clicks their story receives, and companies earn more advertising revenue if they can show a high click-through rate on articles. It has become too common to read endless bait-and-switch headlines. The words grab your attention, and you click on the story only to find out the truth is different than the headline. The only reason you know the headline was misleading is you took the time to read the entire story, down to the last sentence. You did this, because you know it is not uncommon for a journalist to bury the truth in the last paragraph (a term called “bury the lede”). Media outlets know most readers only scan headlines and maybe the first few paragraphs of a story. By burying the lede they can honestly state they published the facts, allowing them to create deceptive headlines whose only mission is to capture eyeballs. But, hey, they got you to click!
Prompted by questions from readers on how to tell truth from fiction in a world inundated with 24-hour news, our 4-part blog series explores answers. In Part 1: God’s Formula for Seeking Truth, we learned the three steps God teaches when searching for answers. We read His Word, pray, and seek Godly counsel. Now, we look at how Christians should approach the political world.
Headlines can be misleading. The goal is to get you to click on the article to increase revenue. When we learn 60% of people “acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week” we begin to realize how misinformation begins to circulate in society (study by Media Insight Project/reported by The Washington Post). Many readers form opinions based on misleading headlines and then take to social media to relay what they just read as “fact.” Add to this that 55% of U.S. adults get their news from social media “often” or “sometimes,” and we have a serious problem (Pew Research Center). “Those who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about…politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims,” states journalism.org (report from Pew Research Center).
As Christians, we should be careful not to get caught in the trap of consuming deceptive news. It is damaging and hurts our credibility when we spread misinformation. I love the analogy by Joe Heschmeyer, co-host of The Catholic Podcast, where he compares news to junk food. “One problem with food might be that it’s mislabeled…but another problem is… the food itself is unhealthy junk that makes your life worse when you consume too much of it. The news is the same way. …junk news, news that exists only to entertain… makes us worse people when we consume too much of it. Part of the reason for that is our addiction to outrage. Psychology Today had a post warning ‘anger is a public epidemic in America.’ The author explained why anger is addictive: ‘what happens is that anger can lead to similar “rushes” as thrill-seeking activities where danger triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain…’”
Heschmeyer continues, “Two of the biggest drug-dealers in this new landscape are the news media and digital social media platforms. The news isn’t there to tell you pertinent information about your life. It’s there so that you see something that makes you angry enough to click on it, because then the news site can charge advertisers for the time you spent viewing the page.”
As women of faith, our approach to politics is to stay informed, engaged, and speak truth. We should not be part of spreading half-truths or lies that permeate social platforms. We also should not consume this information, because it only hurts us. Have you ever done a 1-week social media detox? If not, I highly recommend it. You will be shocked how your entire state of mind changes, for the better.
We also need to recognize Christians can have different opinions on issues as illustrated in one of the stories in Acts. Paul and Barnabas were Godly men who dedicated their lives to spreading the Good News of Christ. They traveled together, ministered together, worshipped together. One day, they had a big disagreement. Should they allow John Mark (Barnabas’ cousin and future writer of the gospel of Mark) to travel with them to their next destination? The conflict arose due to Paul and Barnabas’ past experiences with John Mark. Paul had a negative opinion of the man, and Barnabas had a more forgiving, give-him-a-second-chance opinion. The argument must have been severe, because a resolution was never found, and Paul and Barnabas parted company. Yet, each man continued to preach the Good News of Christ. (Acts 15:36-41).
How does this relate to finding truth in our political world and the news we read? I pose this question. Do you believe Christians can be on opposite sides of the political aisle? The answer: yes, they can. Most policy issues have a clear mandate from God, but there are a few where Christians do have differing perspectives. They might agree on an issue, but they view the solution from different angles. I can think of one specific issue where Christians disagree. One side says, “If we do this, this, and this, then this will happen.” The other side says, “Yes, but if we do this, this, and this, then this will happen.” I can understand both sides of the issue, and currently, neither side has been willing to come to a resolution.
Paul and Barnabas differed strongly in their opinions, and it left them on opposite sides of the aisle. Here is the key when it comes to Christians and political issues. They may disagree on how to solve a problem, enough so they find themselves on different teams, but their views of the issue should still be aligned and doctrinally based. The easiest way I can explain this is how two parts of a family celebrate Christmas. One part of the family insists presents should be opened Christmas Eve. The other half of the family insists the right way is to open presents Christmas morning. They cannot agree so each side sets out to celebrate the way they think is best. BUT, neither side of the family disputes the meaning of Christmas. They both agree on the doctrinal belief that Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ.
Paul and Barnabas differed in their solutions, but their doctrinal beliefs were aligned. This is the reason Christians must know the truth of our foundation. God does not set out to confuse us. A few issues might leave us debating our fellow believers, but most of the time the Bible is clear. God might send us in different directions (Paul and Barnabas, separately, were able to impact a wider landscape than if they had stayed together), but He will never give us conflicting doctrinal answers.
The responsibility lies with us to know why we believe what we believe. If you do not know, then any snake-oil salesman will be able to sway you to his side. If we claim our foundation is in Christ, then we must be educated on what His Word teaches. If you have a friend that has given their life to Christ, and they are on the opposite side from you politically, remind yourself, we are all sons and daughters of God, and we have complete unity with each other through Christ. (Galatians 3:26-29/Ephesians 2:13-16/paraphrased).
When it comes to politics, or any other issue, there are two things we must do.
1. Seek to Understand: One habit of successful people is they seek to understand. I may believe one way on an issue, but a friend might believe another way. I am thinking now of a policy issue I feel strongly about. I could not understand how some believed differently. It nagged at me. So, I began to dig. I researched. I sought to understand, and I found the answer. I now comprehend why some believe a certain way on this issue. I still disagree with their view, because it does not match with biblical doctrine, but I now have a grasp as to why they believe the way they do. Because I sought to understand, we can now have an honest, respectful conversation about our differences. “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” (Proverbs 18:13 MSG).
2. Know Your Foundation: Be knowledgeable. Know why you believe what you believe. When you stay in God’s Word, you will know how to form your political opinions. Your foundation will also help you decide what candidates to support. Take what each politician says and filter their words through your foundation. Do their policies align with your beliefs? Or do they go against God’s mandates? Personal feelings towards a candidate should be low among our reasons to vote for or against a person. I have supported people I did not like, because their policies aligned with my biblical beliefs. I have worked against candidates I did like because they would have actively pushed policy contrary to my beliefs. These were tough decisions. It is easier to pick a candidate based on personality, but I was able to make these choices because I was confident in my foundation which is built on biblical beliefs. Because of my convictions, I can stand strong in the face of opposition. Know what you believe. Know why you believe it and be able to support your beliefs with facts.
One question I received asked when you should engage in political conversations with friends. Before I answer, I want to remind you. Politics is a contact sport. It is ruthless. Why? Because most everyone feels they are fighting for the future of the country. Do not let this cause despair. Politics has been ugly since the beginning of time. One of the most famous incidents in U.S. history was a duel that took place between former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and Vice President Aaron Burr. The result? Hamilton was killed. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that laws against dueling were enforced in the United States. If you choose to have political conversations with friends, go in with your eyes open. It is not for the faint of heart.
With that said, Christians do have a responsibility to stay engaged. God says we are to be subject to our governing authorities. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1 NIV/emphasis mine).
Some say Christians should not be involved in politics. That we should separate God from government. How is this even possible? Can you separate God from His creation? Everything we have is from Him. He gave some people artistic gifts to erect beautiful buildings. He gave others musical talent to create songs. He bestowed some with great physical talent to become athletes, and a select handful He chose to become leaders in government. Governments He created. When we became Christians, the Holy Spirit took up residence in us. How, then, if the Holy Spirit is always with us, would we even be able to separate God from any activity we engage in, much less our involvement in politics? It is not possible. “You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16/MSG).
The authorities that exist “have been established” by Him. “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.” (Daniel 2:20-21 NIV/emphasis mine). There is no separating God from any aspect of our life because God created, and is over, ALL things. Christians have a duty to remain involved in the affairs of our country. At the very least, we must vote. At the most, we should become educated and engaged in the process.
Back to the question. When to talk politics with family and friends? It depends. My initial reaction is to make sure you know your audience. Unless you have a healthy relationship, it is better to remain silent and live out your beliefs through the love you show. (*) Be the example God wants you to be. If you do have a close relationship, ask yourself if the person is open to hearing what you have to say. If so, first seek to understand their point of view. Keep your ears open and your mouth closed until they have made their case. (*When I speak of not engaging, I am referring to the importance of keeping that friendship as being more important than scoring political points. I am not saying you disengage from the political process. As Christians, we need to be involved.)
If this person is not open to having a dialogue and only wishes to argue their beliefs, then walk away. Do as Christ did and go where there is fertile ground with those that will have an open, honest conversation with you. It is better to save the relationship than be pulled into an atmosphere of hate. I know people on both sides of the aisle that have hearts full of anger. Do not get pulled into this world. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-19 NIV/emphasis mine).
Gary Thomas wrote a book titled When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People. “In the Gospels, we read that when Jesus spoke a hard truth, sometimes the other person chose to walk away. Other times, the person asked Jesus to leave–and he complied. There were also times when people begged Jesus to stay, but he walked away so he could remain completely focused on the mission God had for him… We don’t have to pour our time and energy into these people. Instead, we can follow Jesus’ example to walk away from toxic people and walk toward healthy relationships.”-summary from Gary Thomas’ book.
Honest, respectful disagreements can make for good dialogue. I have dear friends on both sides of the political aisle, and we have had some great conversations. Always respectful, and always deferring to each other. But if someone has tangible hate in their heart for another person, candidate, or political party, there is a toxin present that should be kept at a distance. Getting into a political conversation with them is an exercise in futility, and it will damage your relationship. As Thomas says, “Walk away.”
In Part 1 we learned God’s formula for seeking truth, and in Part 2 we learned how Christians should approach politics. In Part 3, I will show you how I apply what we have discussed into my daily life. For now, know your foundation, seek to understand.
Together with you,