Christians in the General Election: Faithfulness and Politics

by Joseph Bentz, Ph.D.

The government has failed. People no longer trust Congress or other politicians. The news media, the Church, and other institutions of public life have alienated much of the nation. Cities are filled with violence. Poverty and war kill thousands daily. As another election approaches, the future looks bleak.

Before you get too discouraged, I should point out that my opening paragraph is not about 2016. It’s a description of the way many Americans saw things 100 years ago. I cover that era every semester in my American Literature survey course. According to the Norton Anthology of American Literature, many people in that World War I era were driven by the “conviction that the previously sustaining structures of human life, whether social, political, religious, or artistic, had been destroyed or show up as falsehoods or, at best, as fragile human constructions.”

Sound familiar? That certainly echoes much like what I hear today as I talk to people about the upcoming election. Teaching and studying literature has shown me how easy it is to glorify the past and think that things are now worse than they’ve ever been. Every generation thinks this way. I gave an example from the previous century, but could have given an illustration from 300, 200, or even 50 years ago.

Sometimes when I teach this, a student will say, “But now, things really are worse than they’ve ever been!” Well, maybe not. In any case, what happened in the aftermath of those times of pessimism? Did everything collapse?

Somehow, the world stumbled on, in spite of wars and injustice and trouble of every kind. Out of the chaos, some good things emerged. For instance, that troubled era just 100 years ago brought us great writers such as T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Dorothy Parker, and many others. It was also a remarkably productive time for music, painting, and sculpture, all greatly influenced by the fragmented, disheartened outlook of the day.

At the same time that many writers and artists were thinking and creating apocalyptically, millions of everyday citizens took a different approach. They went on faithfully doing their jobs, raising their families, serving God, supporting their communities, and courageously living their lives.

The Bible identifies faithfulness as a fruit of the Spirit. What does faithful mean in the context of a contentious election year when so much is at stake and when, for so many of us, the choices look so bad and the future looks so fraught with risk? Maybe being faithful means that we keep our wits. We resist the temptation to fall into cynicism, bitterness, name-calling, despair, and divisiveness. We take a longer view. We see that our nation has worked through many tough times before, and we will get through this. We keep doing our jobs, making the best choices we can. We put our trust in God and look to the future with hope. The battle is not ours alone. We trust in the One who is faithful.

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

Goodness and Politics by Robert Duke, Ph.D.

Gentleness and Politics by Roger White, Ed.D

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

Joseph Bentz, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of English. He teaches courses in American literature and writing, and is the author of four novels and five nonfiction books. [email protected]