How Christians Stay Positive About Politics.
Series Theme: How we Christians stay positive in a negative world.
Title: Hurray! Politics!
Date delivered: January 17, 2016
Preacher: Rev. Douglas Donigian
Synopsis: As Christians, we can better see through false political claims and make better choices because God counteracts and comforts our fears.
Summary: We often encounter liars; if we believe them we may make very harmful choices. We are most susceptible to believing liars when they are able to appeal to our wishes and fears. In that sense, we are responsible for the deceptions we accept. In the political realm, liars will try to use our wishes and fears to gain our support as they attempt to grasp and misuse power.
As Christians we have Jesus’ teaching to counteract our fears, redirect our wishes, and uncloud our judgement. This is a form of armor in the political fray. And this is good news. We are enabled to withstand and see through lies and vote according to our Christian understanding. We can thereby make our democracy better.
Meditation: We watched President Obama’s last state of the union speech last Tuesday, and it got us thinking about politics. This is an election year so we will all hear a lot more about it.
It was divulged ahead of time that the address would be positive, and, in large measure, it highlighted accomplishments rather than failings. Nevertheless, President Obama described certain problems with politics including undue influence by the rich and growing distrust and rancor between the parties. These both have Christian overtones because we are pledged to help the poor and our vision of good governance is one of trust and respect.
Those were on President Obama’s list. What would be on yours?
Here are two problems on my political issue list, telling lies and encouraging fear.
Pamela Meyer has written a book called Liespotting. Liespotting is the art of detecting when we are being lied to. Most of us would say that we hate being lied to (unless it is about our personal appearance) and that we want honesty.
Nicky Gumble tells a great true story about love of honesty in the Alpha series.
A new clerk named Gibbo was hired by Selfridges’ Department Store in London. Shortly after
he arrived, a phone call came in and Gibbo took it. A moment later he told Mr. Selfridge that
the caller wished to speak to him. Mr. Selfridge replied, “I’m busy now. Tell them I’m not
here.” Gibbo went back to the phone and said, “He’s right here. I’ll transfer you to Mr.
Selfridge now.” Selfridge took the call and stormed in afterward asking why Gibbo had defied
him. He explained, “Mr. Selfridge, if I could lie for you, I could lie to you. And I will never do
that.” Gibbo went on to have a distinguished career at Selfridges and was called upon
whenever trust was essential.
We all feel that we would like everyone around us to be like Gibbo.
But Pamela Meyer disagrees. She says this. In some ways we do not crave honesty. Successful lying is a two way street. The liar and the lied-to cooperate. It is a joint venture.
Whoa. The lied-to is part of the problem? Isn’t that blaming the victim?
The reason the liar lies is straight forward. It is to get something he or she wants. It may be to divert blame and get away with something. “It wasn’t me that ate the cookie. It was someone else!” Or it may be just to get something undeserved. “This automobile has never been driven off a peer and left for a week under water. It is worth the price.”
But what about the person lied to? Why do they buy the lie? In many cases that person has a need that makes them vulnerable. They wish the lie was true. A parent who desperately wants her son to get off drugs may accept his false story that he was fired because his boss didn’t like him, rather than because he came to work high on drugs. The parent may accept the son’s false story that he needs money for rent, rather than for drugs.
Pastor Joyce and I grew up within a stone’s throw of the Allegheny River. Near us was a
popular fishing spot. One weekend when I was 15, a family came to fish with their 16 year old
daughter and her friend. The girls were bored and were walking along the road that went past
my house. My friend, Freddy Edwards, and I noticed them found our way to the road. We
were really surprised and delighted because these girls made eye contact and began a
conversation with us. They soon steered the conversation first to how much money we would
spend if we took a girl on a date and then to how much we would spend if we took them on a
date. Later, when I told my mom that I had made a new friend and recounted our
conversation, she taught me the word, gold digger. A gold digger is in it for what valuables
can be gotten, period. I was mad at my mom for suggesting subterfuge at the time. But,
thinking back, it was obvious. Freddie and I so much wanted to be thought of as attractive
and cool, we never saw it.
Pamela’s advice, to avoid falling for lies, is to look at one’s own needs and insecurities and desires. These are what can lead a person to believe a liar. These are what advertisers and unscrupulous politicians exploit.
Jesus warned a lot about susceptibility to lies. In Matthew 24:4 he said, “Many will come in my name saying they are the Messiah and they will deceive many.” In verse 24:24 he went on, “False prophets will appear and do signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” In other words, liars will appear and tell self-serving stories and even people who should know better will believe them.
Peter, in verse 2:3 of his second letter, described the motivation of liars. “[False] teachers in their greed will tell you anything to get hold of your money.” Then in verse 19 he described the plight of the lied-to. Liars will claim that God does not intervene so, “you might as well be bad. Do what you like. Be free.” In other places, a guarantee of God’s forgiveness is used to encourage bad behavior. Either way, the lied-to may accept such a lie if they would like to “be bad”; accepting the lie as truth gives them license.
Back to politics. Politicians get away with lying when they exploit people’s wishes. Here is an overused over-simplification that nevertheless illustrates the risk. Hitler was able to get his nation to allow Jewish people to starve in concentration camps because many wanted to believe that the loss of World War 1 could be undone. They wanted to escape the economic chaos that many believed was caused by the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. Hitler told lies that played on what the people hoped for. Hitler told them that they could undo history. He said it wasn’t their fault they lost the War. If it wasn’t for Jewish people and their collaborators, Germany would have won, and, if they elected him, they would win the next round and Germany could call the shots.
So they accepted that Hitler’s platform would fix their problems. Hitler was elected and soon made dictator. Dishonest politicians can sometimes get elected by telling lies that people want to hear.
There is a particular kind of lie that is most evil, in my understanding. This is a lie that breeds self-serving fear. The lie is that there is a terrible threat and everybody should be afraid and only the politician telling us this can save us if we elect and give him or her enough power. This kind of politician spreads and magnifies fear and then uses it to get power to do evil things.
Pamela Meyer would agree that our fear, really our desire to not be afraid, can lead us to accept the quick-fix lies of greedy and power-hungry politicians.
Jesus knew this danger well. As a result, He taught that we should not be afraid of the things in this world. In Matthew 6:31 and 33 he says, “Why do you worry so much about what you will eat and what you will drink and what you will wear? Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these other things will be added to you.” In other words do not let fear and worry dominate you. Don’t love your possessions so much that you fear losing them. Don’t be in a position that a liar can exploit. Love God instead. We cannot lose God’s love.
For me, this is the good news that combats the negative in politics. We have God offering to be with us and helping us put aside fear. We Christians have accepted this offer. We no longer have to fear death as a finality and we have the Holy Spirit to comfort our fear.
Lack of fear is like armor against liars and their lies. And, good news, we have this armor. Because we are not afraid, we do not have to be taken in by the worst side of politics. We can’t be tricked into giving liars political power. We can take advantage of living in a democracy and help this democracy remain in the hands of people not dominated by fear. We can vote for decency and honesty.
This good news gives us a positive slant even on politics. We can detect the liars. We can be liespotters. We can vote based on our Christian beliefs. We can be free.