Christians and the General Elections: Goodness and Politics

by Robert R. Duke, Ph.D.

Goodness may be the most readily recalled characteristic by those who commit the fruits of the Spirit to memory—especially by those who study the King James or New International versions. However, the New Revised Standard Version uses the word generosity. Because of the rhyme, goodness works better for memorizing—kindness precedes it, and faithfulness and gentleness follow it. The word generosity, though, provides more specificity of the purpose of one’s goodness. It gives a human-to-human dimension to this trait that the English word goodness doesn’t. When we hear the word generosity, we do not think of something that is between ourselves and God alone, but rather, an act we do for others.

As I write this, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) nears. At this time of year, I often recall an email I received many years ago from a Jewish student I taught as an adjunct faculty member at UCLA. In the email (which she sent to everyone in her entire address book the week before Yom Kippur), she asked to speak with anyone she may have offended during the previous year. She did this in order to stand before God on Yom Kippur having, to the best of her abilities, made right with all the people in her life. This multidimensional reality toward God and people opened my eyes. Her simple email illustrated so clearly that it is impossible to love God without loving neighbor; and being in right relationship with one’s neighbor leads us to generous acts for others.

As we think of this political season, using the word goodness could draw our political discourse in the direction of debating right and wrong. Using the word generosity, though, can lead political discussions into what is caring and helpful. We will still have disagreements about whether this policy or that platform is the most caring and helpful, but I am convinced that our engagement in this political season can be refreshing when our dialogue focuses on generosity and the good of others. As we think of the plethora of candidates and issues we will see on the ballot, how does looking through the lens of generosity change how we decide to vote? There is a world of difference between asking ourselves “Is this a good vote?” versus “Is this a generous vote?”

The apostle Paul, in one of the concluding chapters in Romans, states: “I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness [or generosity), filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14, NRSV). I love that this verse concludes by stating our ability to learn from one another as we walk through life (and even elections) together. I pray that the confidence Paul had in the first-century congregation will be true of us as we approach this season of decision.

Read articles in the Christians in the General Election Series:

Love and Politics by Robert Duke, Ph.D.

Joy and Politics by Stephen P. Johnson, DMA

Peace and Politics by Regina Chow Trammel, MSW, LCSW

Patience and Politics by Kenneth L. Waters, Sr., Ph.D.

Kindness and Politics by Pamela Cone, Ph.D., CNS, RN

Faithfulness and Politics by Joseph Bentz Ph.D.

Gentleness and Politics by Roger White, Ed.D.

Self Control and Politics by John M. Thornton, Ph.D., CPA

Robert R. Duke, Ph.D., is dean of the School of Theology.