Faith & politics: where’s the compassion?

red and blue chairs emw photos

Few voices are as aggressively dismissive as a car bumper that sticks faith and politics together on a few inches of adhesive vinyl.

“Republican because I am a Christian!”
“Democrat because of my faith!”
“God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat!”

You mean you LIKE politics?

I’ve seen variations of all three of these declarations–and more–on bumpers from NYC to Miami. And listen, I get it. I was a history major decades before I became a divinity school student. I love to go to the US History Museum in Washington, DC and walk through the section on the US presidents. I have toured the homes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Jimmy Carter. I have visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas where JF Kennedy was assassinated, and I’ve stood (approximately) where Lincoln stood to give the Gettysburg Address–which for a long time I had memorized.

To some degree, I actually enjoy politics. (Don’t hate!) I have made close friendships through my involvement in campaigns that mattered to me and have priceless memories from my experiences at political events. I consider voting to be a privilege that came at a cost and I make it a point to exercise that right at every opportunity. I care a lot about which laws are passed and which policies are overturned, and I want to have a say in the process when I can.

No bumper sticker theology please.

But back to the bumper sticker theology above: each one of those statements bothers me. First, they are completely devoid of compassion. No one reads those statements and thinks, “Wow, that driver really cares for me. Why, my goodness, I think I just felt the love of God come rushing into my heart all on account of those few little words.” Secondly, I’m just not a fan of dichotomies. A dichotomy “is a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.”* And here’s some truth: Democrats and Republicans are not entirely different! In fact, it’s my experience that we all want pretty much the same thing, we just disagree on how to make that happen. While the first two statements don’t actually mention the other party, they might as well.

  • “I’m Republican because I am a Christian. (So if you’re a Democrat, you’re clearly, ya know, NOT a Christian).”
  • Democrat because of my faith! (And if you say you’re a Republican because of your faith, we MUST have different religions).”

Then there’s the implicit suggestion in “God is neither a Democrat or Republican” that God is surely an American. As such, God is either a part of one of the lesser funded parties or is unaffiliated. It’s just so pretentious and arrogant. It makes me tired.

Does God care about politics?

To be sure, it’s not that I think God doesn’t care at all about US politics. Surely God cares that we invest in our communities by paying attention and by casting our votes. Plus, I believe God cares about what is on the hearts of humanity; if that’s true, then undoubtedly God has considered the partisan politics that drives the US government. But I don’t think God cares nearly as much about such things as about how we treat one another. For example, I think it matters less to God how we vote than how compassionate we are to the poll workers. I think God is more concerned with the fruit of our faith all year long than with the outcome of an election every 12-48 months. I think God is less troubled by who is president of the US than by our ignorance of the troubles of our neighbors.

Let’s love instead.

Just before the story of the Good Samaritan, an expert in the law asks Jesus how to attain eternal life. Jesus throws the question back, lawyering the lawyer, and asks, “What does the law say?” By that, Jesus means “What does scripture say?” The lawyer says, “It says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says, “Yep. That’s it. Now go do that.” (Luke 10:25-37) Less than a generation later, the church at Corinth was struggling with just how to do that–how to love each other. So Paul explained: “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8b CEB)

Maybe we should put that on our bumper stickers instead. Better yet, let’s just live that way.

*Definition from Microsoft Bing search.

Categorized as Blog, Faith

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.