Do you remember the first day of college and the anxiety of sitting in a classroom with a new professor, new classmates and a syllabus that seemed impossible to accomplish in 16 weeks?

The excitement, anticipation and fear of the moment were almost overwhelming, especially after the fourth or fifth class.

Welcome to 2016! The syllabus has been handed out. The final is in 10 months and there is much to learn.

The classrooms of the nation will gather around televisions, in convention halls and social media forums, debating and discussing the issues of our day.

Health care, immigration, national defense, education, budgets and debt are among the subjects we will consider. My stomach is already feeling queasy!

I confess it is not the conversation and debate that make me anxious for the November elections. It is the polarization and demonization of the “other” that trouble me.

The problems and issues we face as a nation are complex. The solutions require leadership, wisdom, cooperation, sacrifice and creativity.

The United States is a Democratic republic, a truth that many seem to have forgotten. The genius and strength of our nation are worked out in the dynamic tension between Democratic and Republican ideals.

Where are the politicians and leaders who understand and welcome this tension? Instead, we are positioned for a great battle with winners and losers.

Peter the Apostle offers words that may be helpful to us. The early church was gaining an identity and recognition apart from its Jewish roots. This resulted in persecution from Temple leaders and suspicion from Roman authorities.

Peter encourages these Christians by instructing them to keep their behavior excellent and to allow their good deeds to speak on their behalf when they are slandered.

They are to use their freedom, not as a covering for evil, but as an opportunity to serve others.

Peter summarizes: Respect everyone, love one another, fear God and honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). What if this became the attitude by which we entered and participated in the election season?

Let us respect everyone, acknowledging that Americans are a diverse people with a wide spectrum of beliefs and experiences. This diversity should be fertile ground for new ideas and creative solutions. Respect invites understanding and cooperation, even amid differences and disagreements.

Let us love one another. Jesus proclaimed that the chief identifier of Christians to the world is their love for one another. Instead of questioning the orthodoxy and genuineness of fellow believers with different political opinions, let us first act with love.

Let Christians model healthy dialogue and problem solving that nurtures, not inhibits, community.

Let us fear God. The call to fear God reminds us that no person, no nation and no political system are absolute. Together, with humility and sincerity, we seek truth and solutions beyond ourselves.

Let us honor the king. The “kings” or leaders of our political structures are numerous. They are easy targets for ridicule and contempt. Instead, we are called to honor and respect these men and women. May our nation seek leaders who are worthy of honor.

2016 is here. Class has begun. The elections are coming.

Let us pray for unity instead of polarity. And let us do our part by respecting everyone, loving one another, fearing God and honoring our leaders.

Wade Smith is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma. A version of this article first appeared on FBC’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PastorWadeSmith.

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