This is the second article of a two-part series. Part 1 shared why it is highly possible we will not know who our next president is for many weeks after election day and thus might go through an explosive, contentious time. That article encouraged pastors, leaders and individuals to help set the expectations of their congregation, followers or friends, and think ahead about the big picture of how to respond. Part 2 is about our own personal response.
Two weeks ago, I spoke at a church on a topic that in other years might have felt almost routine—and this year felt anything but: Kindness.
Wanting to equip the body of Christ on this topic right now, a church pastor in Michigan asked me to fly in. He interviewed me onstage during the sermon time about some of my key research findings on kindness. And in this crazy COVID-election season, we knew we were not only speaking to most listeners via Livestream, but also earnestly discussing a fruit of the Spirit that everyone values in theory . . . but which in actual practice seems even more sparse than 300 worshippers dotted around a 3,000-seat auditorium.
Why am I highlighting the topic of kindness in a series about the U.S. election potentially taking many weeks to resolve? Because we have an incredibly important responsibility to think through how we—we personally—are going to respond during the uncertain and perhaps vitriolic months ahead. Especially those of us who, as people of faith, are asked to be light in darkness.
Below are some crucial factors to keep in mind. (And as with Part 1, if you think your pastor or ministry leader would benefit from this information, please pass it along.)
- Don’t Just Fight Negativity During This Season: Actively Teach And Practice Kindness
We have heard from many teachers and school administrators, as they reached out about our 30-Day Kindness Challenge initiative, that they have poured millions of dollars into anti-bullying programs that don’t work. As one put it, “You can’t effect change by teaching people not to be a bully: you have to teach kindness.”
The same principle applies to our current moment and helps leaders who have been wrestling with how to address this chaotic time without getting unduly pulled into politics. Don’t just speak against negativity or urge restraint: teach active, Christ-like kindness.
And practice kindness as well. Which can be hard in this season. Which brings us to an all-important point #2.
- We Never Get A Free Pass To Be Unkind—Even When Others Have Been So To Us
For those of us who are Christ-followers, here’s a principle to inform and guide our response: No matter what we feel led to do or say, no matter what person or policies we feel we’re supposed to support, not support, or fight against, no matter how unfairly attacked we are, we must look like Jesus in all our interactions. Period.
There is nothing in scripture that allows us to set aside the fruits of the Spirit just because we’re concerned about the direction of our country. There is no “out” in scripture for not being a person of love, no matter how provoked you are. And as my friend David French points out, the end never justifies the means, no matter how alarming a situation might be or how tempting it is to think otherwise.
There’s simply no exception to the rule of Jesus.
Yes, let’s vigorously support the direction, people and policies we feel led to support. But let’s think just as vigorously, every day, about whether any of our words or actions could bring dishonor to the name of Jesus. Instead of being the light of the world, is there anything that we are doing that might move beyond disagreement and deepen the darkness by spreading division and discord? Again, that’s not to say that we can’t share what we feel we’re supposed to share or stand up for what we believe is right. God calls us as Christians to do those things at times. But how we do it is of critical importance—and the bottom line is, we never get a free pass to become harsh or hateful.
Some people have brought up the clear Biblical example of Jesus seeming to “lose it” in His anger at the injustice of money changers extorting the poor in the temple. One person told me something like, “If Jesus can turn over the money changers’ tables in His anger at their wrong, I can certainly post angry rants on Facebook.” And just to be clear: I can’t tell you not to! No one knows but the Lord knows exactly where deep concern becomes real unkindness. Everyone has to go to God for themselves and get guidance on what they should do and not do.
Yet for the record, in case it helps, read the story of what Jesus actually did, in Mark 11:11-15. You’ll see that what might come across as “losing it,” was actually not an impulse. Jesus may well have been angry, but He wasn’t having a knee-jerk reaction to anger in the moment. He had actually gone to the temple late in the day the day before, had seen what was going on, and decided to come back the next day. Probably because there would be far more people there to see the statement He was about to make. Perhaps, like Jesus, there may be times when we need to have a more planned, pointed response rather than a reactionary one.
- Learn How To Be The Person Of Kindness You Already Think You Are
So how do we make sure we’re not crossing the line from impassioned to impatient, from firmly principled to harshly opinionated? This is the perfect time for the refresher we all need on how to be people of kindness.
The 30-Day Kindness Challenge is a “kindness boot camp” that helps us to identify and address areas where we’re not as kind as we could be. We all value kindness, and we all think we’re kind—we just don’t realize that there are ways we are not being kind. Read The 30-Day Kindness Challenge book. Take a close look at Chapter 6, which talks about seven patterns of unkindness and negativity. Believe it or not, all of us exhibit at least one of those patterns (and some of us have more than one!). The aspects of unkindness that we’re probably most vulnerable to in this election season are exasperation, catastrophizing, and grumbling. Find out what your “red flag” areas are and be intentional about being a person of kindness in all areas of life, including politics.
- Talk Across The Aisle, Rather Than Mostly To Your TV Screen
One reason we’re so divided is that we tend to talk to, listen to, watch, and read information from people who agree with us. While being divided as a nation is not some people’s top concern, being divided and disconnected from those individuals who disagree with us must be. Because it is directly contrary to Jesus’ command to both love your neighbor and to care for those who oppose you.
So truly, the most important type of engagement is not media, TV news, or social media—it is to actually try to hear the heart of those with whom you completely disagree. Not because it will change your opinion (it probably won’t), but because it helps personalize them and their viewpoint instead of turning it into a too-simplistic or even inaccurate caricature of what “those people” think.
The absolute best way of coming together as communities and a country today is for us to get out of our silos and really see and care for those who disagree with us. Even if we never see eye to eye on politics, we have far more in common than we think with those who will vote completely differently.
- Pray—And Point To Him
Finally—we all need to commit to pray. Pray that God guide us and others as we respond. As we vote. As we talk to others. And on behalf of our country, let’s also pray that in a year of firsts, this is not the first year we have an actual election crisis and distrust in the legitimacy of the election in a way that hurts our nation.
Let’s follow God’s exhortation to, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16a)
Our assignment is not to fight the crooked and depraved generation. Our assignment is not to put any one objective or outcome first, but to put our lives as examples of Jesus’ love and kindness first. At the church where I spoke recently the worship leader said, “When someone looks at my life, I don’t want them to first see a donkey or an elephant, but the Lamb of God.” Let’s make that our aim, so that ultimately, in the midst of what could be a difficult and challenging season, we point to Him.
*If you would like to have Shaunti speak virtually or in-person to your congregation or participate in a pastoral interview on these topics (such as The 30-Day Kindness Challenge) leading up to the election—and beyond—please click here.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Thriving in Love and Money, uncovers the issues that cause money conflicts and provide couples with truths that are relationship game-changers…Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.
This article was first published at Patheos.