What’s a Christian to do during the political “crazy season”–i.e. the race for the presidency of the United States? When asked, I usually answer in terms of what a Christian should and should not do.My personal list of “should nots” goes as follows.

First, never identify any political party or party platform with God’s will. God is not a political partisan. He transcends all human politics. When we fall to the temptation to enlist God for “our side,” we take God’s name in vain.

Second, refuse to hate “the other side.” Hatred takes many forms. Snide remarks and “cute” one-liners, using strong arm tactics in the work place or church, demonizing others, and portraying others as somehow less than human have no place in the Christian’s life.

Third, burn no bridges. Modern American political behavior encourages us to break community with anyone who does not hold our particular views. Many a friendship will be destroyed over the next few months, numerous churches will suffer serious disruptions of fellowship–all because some of us burn bridges for the sake of politics.

I sometimes think of my “not to do” list in terms of the following phrase: “Jesus would never do (fill in the blank).” I find this helps rein in my behavior. Perhaps a similar exercise will help you.

My personal list of “shoulds” includes the following. These are the actions I believe Jesus would always do.

First, “study to show thyself approved.” We Americans are noted for short attention spans, our love affair with sound bites and slogans, and our addiction to unexamined viewpoints. Christians are called by God to do better. Yes, I know it’s tiresome to research a politician’s record. It’s very difficult to discover the underlying agendas of a given party or its candidates. Still, most of us can and should work harder to do so. Christians understand that we are responsible for the decisions we make. Disciplined research is not optional for us. We need to do it in order to make good decisions.

Second, “pray without ceasing.” In my experience, Christians are more apt to pray about getting a prime parking place or a promotion than for God’s guidance with regard to politics. Yet, the scriptures clearly teach that the Christian life consists primarily of prayer. All components of life are to be bathed in prayer. Prayer at its best opens us to insights and promptings from God.

Prayer is the established means by which God reshapes us. He may even change our minds! In addition, Christians are to pray for the welfare of all others and God’s world. I sometimes think all of us would be better off if Christians spent more time praying and less time “getting out the vote.”

Third, when the time comes, make your decision and vote. We live in a republic, which is a specialized form of democracy. Voting is the way we have chosen to express ourselves as we select political leaders and invest them with the power of decision. Voting is one (and only one) way in which Christians participate in the broader life of the nation.

Fourth, “put away all anger” after the election is over (and preferably during the campaign as well!). It might help to read and ponder First Corinthians 13. Remember, love is the greatest of the Christian virtues. God calls us to act lovingly toward all others at all times. When all is said and done, political affiliations and structures will pass away. Love, though, endures.

Mike Smith is pastor at First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This column appeared previously as his personal blog.

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