Perhaps, our initial thoughts for or against a presidential candidate are not always as clean-cut as is previously considered. Given this tough truth, I encouraged the students to instead think about what issues (not personality traits) are substantially most important to them. To not merely steer the conversation to a safe place but actually show a personal investment in what was proving to be very important to these young minds, I shared that for me the subject of education—good, quality, funded, and for all children—is one of the most important things I listen for in considering how and for whom I will vote. From the sudden silence in the room, I could tell I had offered an alternative approach different from much of what the students had heard elsewhere. A shade of grey had been introduced into what they “so clearly” had seen as black and white. Instead of assuming, labeling, or (dare I say) bearing false witness, I wanted to suggest an issue-oriented approach to politics for these young minds.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m hardly innocent when it comes to political-badmouthing. I must confess that I, too, participate in far too much (a single event of it is beyond too much) breaking of the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”) with regards to politics. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something I want to contribute toward—especially for our younger generations wrestling with the often times multitude of confusing variables tied up in partisan politics. That being said, the more I work with our youth the more I find it to be true how they can often, to no fault of their own, take what they hear from us and other adults—usually out of context—and run with it, without a critical eye or question. How dangerous it is when our kids pick up the untamed torches of our heated rhetoric and run carelessly about with them—unaware of the potential and probability for starting wildfires. A single word can shade the mind of a young person—for better or for worse.
Talking politics is difficult, if not many times downright messy, on its own. That becomes exponentially so when the conversation includes youth who are either unclear or uninformed in one regard or another. We as parents, grandparents, adults, friends, and leaders in the community need to be wise and intentional in how we address politics with our children and youth. The temptation I wrestled with the other night—and likely would have conceded to had I gone with my immediate reaction—was to sidestep or shut down the topic, in fear of what to say and/or what would be heard. Neither skilled nor experienced in intergenerational political conversations, I find Martin Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment to be exceedingly helpful in guiding us to move beyond personal attacks to consider more substantial themes. In his Large Catechism, Luther writes:
“No one shall use the tongue to harm a neighbor, whether friend or foe. No one shall say anything evil of a neighbor, whether true or false, unless it is done with proper authority or for that person’s improvement. Rather, we should use our tongue to speak only the best about all people, to cover the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our own honor” (Book of Concord 424.285).
No, Luther’s words here are not given in particular with regards to politics; but they do serve as a principle that should guide all areas of our life—private and public. Whether true or not, when we speak in harmful, destructive, and evil ways about our neighbor—anyone—we demonstrate a lack of care towards working together and building up all for the common good. Politics too easily fuels us to draw lines in the sand. What initially is intended to distinguish, unfortunately many times turns to demonizing the other—painting the worse possible picture of those who differ, even in one minute stance. To disagree—highlighting the details of one’s own political stance and/or the discrepancies of the other side—is one thing; but to drag the opposing person through the muck, as though their position defines their person entirely, is something different: a witness of them that is less than true. We—Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, partisan, political, or apathetic—need to get back down to the basic.
All of us, at the end of the day, end of the election, and end of our life, are first, foremost, and finally children of God. We are sinful and broken; yet we are loved and forgiven. When we break the eighth commandment and bear an image of the other—whomever they are—which is less than the image of God they reflect as one who has been created in love and looked upon as very good, then we speak against God, the Creator of all. When we diminish another, we ultimately cast our judgment on the One from whom we ourselves are given life. Let us not so quickly forget that God came into the world in Jesus the Christ not to demolish us with our own self-made bad witnesses, but to take all that which tarnishes our identity as beloved children of God onto himself on the cross. The Resurrected Christ bears and shares an image of true witness founded on God’s love for us. We, ourselves, are freed from sin and death to bear life-giving witnesses—reflecting the grace and love of him who took on all of the muck and mess on our behalf. Our witness rests on the gift given for all in the Crucified and Risen Christ.
Be passionate in your political discourse—demonstrate your care for citizenship and society. Address the issues that you find most crucial in serving your community and those in need. Where correction is needed or distinction necessary, do so for more clear and coherent debate. Share your beliefs in a manner that is neither condemning nor judgmental for others, but enhances the dialogue. Write to those in elected positions—make your views known in responsible and respectful ways. Perhaps most importantly for posterity, engage topics with and encourage questions from your children, grandchildren, and youth—help our young girls and boys to formulate their own critical thinking with regards to politics, inspire them to want to share in the decision-making and dialogue of building and forming civics. Participate in these political aspects as important; but do so altogether with a focus on issues and not the downfall or demise of candidates. The Election of 2016 is proving, weekly if not daily, to be one of who can dredge deeper—casting more metaphorical excrement on their opponent. It’s nasty, and the whole world is watching. We—all of us—are responsible, in part, for contributing towards a society that deems this as acceptable. It is not. Let’s reorient our political passion away from tearing down those who differ from us, and instead work toward unity and progress together amidst our diversity.