We have survived another time of elections in this country. On almost every level -- national, state and local -- we have endured the barrage of advertising in all forms of media most often aimed at deriding and maligning one candidate and seldom offering a positive description of friend and foe alike. After nearly every election, why do we feel the need for a good hot bath or shower to wash away all the filth we have allowed in during the campaigns? Thomas Paine wrote 235 years ago about "times that try men's souls."
As American citizens, we enjoy the privilege of living in a land blessed by various forms of liberty. We prize our freedoms and boast of them frequently. But freedoms can be abused. In elections seasons, we fall back on an old adage that boasts, "All's fair in love, war and politics." To suggest that no boundaries should exist in the campaigning process indeed denotes an abuse of such a freedom, if such a freedom truly exists. We can not justify the use of deceit, lies, hypocrisy and character assassination claiming those are "fair." One excess leads to other excesses. Where do we stop? Enough animosity can be stirred during a campaign to ensure that any buried hatchets are so close to the surface they soon re-appear during the governing process.
Other freedoms that are abused, especially during these seasons, are those constitutionally guaranteed ones of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Do I really have the freedom to say anything I want? Do I really have the freedom to give a statement to the press that allows me to spew slander at will? The words "freedom" and "liberty" offer no license for character bashing just to make me look better than someone else. Peter reminds us we have a responsibility to our government. "Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good" (1 Peter 2:13-14 NKJV). The command to "submit" challenges us to respect those who rule over us. Peter continues in the same passage to remind us that the liberties or freedoms we possess must not be misused or abused. "As free, yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (v. 16).
To claim immunity for our attacks because we are using our freedoms heaps abuse on the constitution and even more on God. Peter's summary of our relationships occurs in four very brief but very succinct imperatives: "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Peter 2:17). The verbs used in those challenges are positive and constructive -- "honor," "love," "fear." No permit is given to dishonor, to hate, to ignore.
Such overwhelming abuses in times of election campaigns do not disappear once the vote count is completed. The loss of respect for those selected in a democratic process has become a dominant characteristic in our public image. What has happened to civility in our society and for that matter in the church? Mudslinging is not limited to the political arena. Sufficient is left over to fling from our pulpits and to fill our gossip (although gossip is forbidden for Christians.)
Jesus came as a gift of peace to the world (Luke 2:14). He came to bring peace to troubled and conflicted souls (John 14:27). He illustrated peace in His ministry and His Word (Ephesians 2:17). The references to peace in the New Testament attest to its importance in our lives along with such other positives as forbearance, moderation and love. Living in a world of bitterness, chaos and disagreements challenges the Christian daily, but Paul insists that "as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18). That directive removes all justification for any attempt to "get even."
The recent elections are stark reminders of some of the qualities of life we have lost over the years, but they can also be a reminder of qualities more important than life itself, for those have been given to us by the Prince of Peace.