Christians in the General Election: Gentleness and Politics

by Roger White, Ed.D.

The opposite of gentleness is harshness. Gentleness involves curbing one’s strength for the benefit of others. Yet the spiritual fruit of gentleness involves more than moderating physical force; it includes not overpowering others verbally, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, or spiritually. The weight of our actions must be determined by the situation at hand. When we offer others measured responses and well-regulated interactions, in light of their needs and for their benefit, we extend courtesy by being gentle.

The Apostle Peter instructs his readers to honor Jesus in their hearts and always be ready to answer those who ask about the hope within them, but he cautions them to do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16). When asked to explain, justify, or even defend our beliefs, the words of our response and the manner of delivery must be tempered based on the sensibilities and sensitivities of our hearers.

So where is gentleness amidst this contentious political season? No doubt we all feel its absence and perhaps wrestle to reflect gentleness in our own lives during political discussions. Sustaining a gentle manner proves difficult when our deeply held convictions are challenged and we desire to see our own position prevail.

What does gentleness look like in action?

In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates Ecclesiastes 8:1: “Wisdom puts light in the eyes, and gives gentleness to words and manners,” drawing a poetic connection between one’s countenance and gentleness. The New Revised Standard Version translates it this way: “Wisdom makes one’s face shine, and the hardness of one’s countenance is changed.”

Victorian British photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, offers us an artistic expression regarding gentleness. She was born in Calcutta in 1815, began a photography career at age 48, and is known as an exceptional portraitist with keen Christian sensibilities. Her work has been displayed in well-known institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Shortly after taking up photography she embarked on a project to portray and interpret the nine Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians through photographs. For each fruit, she produced a series of portraitures and the results of her endeavor were donated to the British Museum in 1865. All the images representing the nine fruits incorporate the same central figures—a mother with her children (based on the Madonna and Child theme). In this sensitive and insightful portrayal, we see a mirroring of the Galatians theme—different character qualities arising from a single source.

For the Christian, not only do we have Paul’s exposition of the various expressions of the Fruit of the Spirit, we also have the one who perfectly reflects them all. Jesus invites us to be taught by him: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” — a perfectly measured response for the human condition.

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.

Faithfulness and Politics by Joseph Bentz, Ph.D.

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

Roger White, Ed.D., is a professor in the University Libraries and Azusa Pacific Seminary. He is a curator of Special Collections and Rare Books.