Labor Day weekend is on us, and with it the more-or-less formal kickoff of the presidential race. But hold on! Hasn't it been our tradition to think of a presidential race starting and ending in the same year? This is Labor Day 2007, and we're talking about the Election of 2008!
Which is, of course, the exaggerated measure of so many things in modern American politics-not the least of which is the level of ugliness you can expect to see, hear, and feel over the next 15 months. Give a gaggle of candidates that much time to talk, and it's all but certain to get ugly.
So if ever there were a place for a Christian worldview to shine through bright and clear, this is it. We don't have to join in such ugliness; there's no need to be nasty.
I am not, let me make it clear, talking about trimming back the substance of our differences. I am not suggesting that we need to compromise absolute principles. I am saying, as I have in this space from time to time, that there is an in-your-face way to argue your point-and there is the way of grace.
It is a pity that we Christians are so often known only for our in-your-face approach. We are frequently known more for our eagerness to exclude rather than our eagerness to persuade.
To be sure, God never compromises His truth or comes close to suggesting that we can fudge on principle in order to make peace. He never hints that all approaches to belief and lifestyle are equally valid. He is the definition of absolutism.
Yet the essence of the gospel is that God reaches out to sinful people and pleads with them to change their ways. Patiently and persuasively, He waits through their rebellion and stubbornness. Knowing that not a single one of us is good enough to live up to His absolutes, He even gives us the wrapping of righteousness we can't provide on our own. Only when that incredibly generous offer is rejected are we finally excluded from His presence.
So if we are serious about constructing a Christian view of involvement in politics, the gospel will help us. When we point out the wrongness of our opponent's point of view, we'll resist the temptation to do it in anger-or even with put-downs. We will, instead, as Francis Schaeffer used to stress, do it with tears. And when we point out the rightness of our own perspective, it won't be with arrogance, but with disarming warmth and pleading in our voice.
Some argue, of course, that Jesus occasionally resorted to some pretty severe language while debating with His enemies. But Jesus was in the unusual position of knowing-in detail-the hearts of those who were challenging Him. We don't know that about our political opponents. And we have the specific command of Jesus to treat those opponents in exactly the same way we would like them to be treating us.
I'm not kidding myself. The roughneck radicals won't all of a sudden honor us for being so nice and start bending over backwards to give us a fair break. Nor will the media start doing specials on the new sweetness-streak among Christians.
But if such people want to be outside the mainstream of God's blessing, let's let them-not us-do the excluding. Let's keep speaking the absolute truth, but let's discipline ourselves to learn in constantly creative ways what it means to do that with a loving tone. God always means every word He says, but He's never mean-spirited or vindictive when He says it.
Now we have 15 months to discover and to practice such habits of kindness. I don't know which will be more fun: waiting for the surprise we see among our opponents, or savoring the quiet smiles on our own faces as we fall asleep every night.