Politics between friends


There is a reason that people avoid talking about politics. I was gathered with some friends to mark International Bacon Day (an under-observed celebration) when political opinions broke out.

It started when one man made what he knew would be a controversial announcement, but he wanted to get it out into the open: He would be voting for Mitt Romney. He said he would vote for anyone who has a realistic chance of defeating our current president. This brother was clearly angry with Gov. Romney for not being someone else, but he was defying the rest of us to tell him he was wrong.

Another man became quite animated, objecting that he would never vote for a Mormon, and so he would not be voting in this presidential election. A third man said that he could not vote for someone who advocates torture, and so he would be writing in a candidate. The conversation continued via a heated email thread later in the week. Bear in mind, these are all godly men who share the same theology and are all quite conservative in their political views. But that apparently doesn't preclude sharp differences.

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I have followed politics since I was a boy, and I study politics now for the same reason that it stirs these emotions. Politics pertain to the most serious matters that confront us as human beings. It touches every aspect of life, for good or ill. It shapes and directs, cultivates or retards. It calls for the greatest wisdom but attracts the greatest scoundrels. Discerning between sage and scoundrel can be elusively difficult, as we are discovering all over again in this election cycle, and that judgment can divide even close friends.

Moral distinctions are at the heart of political judgments, and so politics brings out our fighting spirit. It's not only the distinction between democratic and authoritarian regimes and between liberal and illiberal ones that stirs our indignation. We form battle lines of high principle between Democrats and Republicans, among supporters of Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum in the Republican primaries, and between the Clinton and Obama camps in the Democratic Party. "My opponents are morally flawed and disastrous," we say. "They must be stopped. And I'm angry at you for not seeing this."

People get worked up over politics, even on the fine points, because politics is not game, nor is it a racket. It's our shared life, our civic home. And we fight for what we believe is best because we love our families, our neighbors, and our country.

But what should temper, though not douse, our moral-political zeal is humble awareness of the partialness of our judgments, loving respect for friends and fellow citizens who also cherish that civic home, and quiet trust in the sovereign wisdom of God who directs the course of nations, at times through us and at times despite us.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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