So the polls have closed. The ballots have been counted. The returns are in. America has voted. Some members of Congress will go home, having been forced out of office by the electorate. Others will be entering the Capitol, filled with new dreams. And the nonstop analysis of why it happened will continue to dominate cable news, newspapers, and websites. Oh, and politics on social media will continue to be mostly unbearable.
But how should Christians react to the election results? Here are four attitudes that should mark our response:
1. Be Thankful
Yes, I know elections can be nasty. Politicians often appeal to our basest instincts. TV ads depict opponents in the worst possible light. And everyone argues online for reasons nobody really quite understands.
And yet we should, in some ways, be thankful for the noise and chaos and rancor of our representative republic. It means that our leaders are not put in power by force or by birthright, but by the vote of the people. The partisanship we so often decry is a feature of a free people. Most people around the world have no choice in who leads them. They don’t get a vote. Leaders are instead put in power by military might and autocratic rule.
There is much to lament about America’s growing incivility and it could lead, in the future, to increasing instability. When Christians engage in tribal partisanship, it damages our Christian witness. But we should be thankful for the privilege of free elections and the stewardship God has granted us to use our influence to shape the governments who lead us.
2. Be Humble
Did your party win? Did the issues you fought for prevail? Celebrate, but react humbly, knowing that elections come and go, the mood of the people rises and falls and while the leader you have so much hope for will, at some point and in some moment, fail you. Resist the urge to make sweeping predictions about how ascendant your party might be. I remember people talking in 2004 about how Republicans were a “permanent majority” only to lose both chambers in 2006. And in 2008 when the Democrats captured the White House, the narrative was that Republicans would never win another election. Only to win back Congress in 2010.
If you won on election night, be a gracious winner. Know that somewhere in your circle there are people who are despairing (see below) the election loss. What’s more, hold your victories loosely and your politicians even more loosely. Good leaders can do good things for human flourishing, but they’ll never usher in the kingdom of God. And one day, the leaders who dominate the headlines will be a footnote in your grandchildren’s history books.
3. Be Hopeful
Did your party lose? Did some issues you fought for go down to defeat? It’s good to mourn when good leaders lose and issues that affect our neighbors’ flourishing are not victorious at the ballot box. But don’t give in to despair and cynicism.
I remember, as a young man, sitting in a sad ballroom expecting a victory party and instead listening to my candidate give a concession speech. I remember saying foolish things like “America is finished!” Now I look back and realize that not only did the world not end when my guy lost, the country didn’t do as bad as I imagined. Everything was really ok.
I’m not minimizing the importance of elections, but as a Christian I have to put my faith, not in a party or a politician or a program, but in Christ. If Jesus is truly the rightful king of the universe, if He has conquered sin and death and the grave, if He is not up in heaven wringing His hands over exit polls, why should I wring mine?
4. Be Prayerful
We may be uncertain about what the immediate future holds after this election, but we are certain about our responsibility as followers of Jesus. Paul commands Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:2 to pray for all of those in authority. Imagine if we prayed as much as we tweeted or texted or posted about politics?
And in a post-election environment, we should pray specifically both for the leaders who have been voted out of office and those who are newly elected. For every member of congress going home and worrying about his or her next career move, there are dozens of staffers, mostly underpaid, wondering about their future.
We should also pray for those have freshly been given power to represent their district or their state in Congress. This is a new time of scrutiny and responsibility. Let’s pray they steward this well and work to put in places policies that respect the dignity of every human being and advance the flourishing of our communities. We should pray earnestly, not only for those with whom we agree, but for those with whom we disagree. For we know nobody assumes leadership by accident. God allows in power those whom he wills (Romans 13). He is in control and can shape the hearts of rulers (Proverbs 21:1).
Ultimately, though we work to shape our communities by participating in elections, we know that America is but a blip on the radar screen of history, a history God is gathering to himself. And while we should join institutions and make voting decisions, we are ultimately strangers and foreigners, uncomfortable in any earthly movement. And one day we will dwell in a more perfect city, one whose “builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).