Christians in the General Election: Love and Politics

by Robert Duke, Ph.D.

Today’s contentious election cycle elicits descriptions like “divisive,” “vitriolic,” and “foreboding.” Christians should be a calming presence throughout the process, regardless of the results on November 8. Our political engagement—indeed our lives—should reflect the fruit of the Spirit and confidence in God’s sovereignty.

That isn’t always the case. I remember a time when my father returned from his first Little League baseball coaches’ meeting troubled. His discouragement arose not because of the results of the draft, but rather because one of the other coaches, a local pastor, displayed poor behavior. Afterward, my dad talked privately with the person about his comments and actions. He expected, “Yeah, you are right. I should apologize.” Instead, he got, “Hey, this is baseball, not church,” and the coach went unchecked throughout the season. My dad, on the other hand, did not believe in leaving one’s faith at the locker room door.

Similarly, with the current election cycle, none of us should disconnect our faith from our behavior, especially in a season awash in mudslinging. The fruit of the Spirit offer a framework for our engagement in the political process. Is the way you engage in politics reflective of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV)?
Biblical scholars have long identified the contrast between the “acts of the sinful nature” (5:19) and the “fruit of the Spirit” (5:22) that Paul juxtaposes in Galatians. The list of improper acts does read like headlines from a day on political social media: “sexual immorality...hatred...fits of rage...factions...etc.” The Christian life is different, not just in the way we do things, but also our perspective and constitution for facing the realities of the world.

Each Monday between now and the election, we will focus on a fruit of the Spirit. This is not to say that the attributes in this list should be seen as separate (i.e., we can choose to exhibit one and not another). In fact, the word in Greek for fruit is singular. Think of it this way: When people describe a cup of coffee with flavor notes from many different ingredients that mirrors how I envision one fruit that has these broader attributes. We should perceive one fruit that exhibits all the qualities as the Spirit moves in the life of the believer.

So the first flavor that should be present in a Spirit-filled life is love. There is much one could write about the term as used throughout the New Testament. The specific Greek word agape is used more than 100 times, and one of the most beloved passages, 1 Corinthians 13, is focused on helping define agape with words like patient, kind, does not envy, and so on—many of the same attributes of the fruit of the Spirit.

One poignant use, in light of our current election cycle, is 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Think of your own state of mind as you walk through this election cycle, are you fearful or confident that God is still on the throne? This passage ends with the words, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Before your next post or blog or conversation, ask yourself if the love of God (both His love for you and your love for Him) is banishing fear and helping you treat others lovingly in your political engagement.

Read more articles in this series:

Christians in the General Election by Kevin Mannoia, 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.

Gentleness and Politics by Roger White, Ed.D.

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

Robert Duke, Ph.D., is dean of the School of Theology and Azusa Pacific Seminary and professor in the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies