Rules of Engagement

There are probably few of us these days that haven’t found ourselves engaged, or at least witnessing, a heated political debate.  Sometimes these debates are with our closest friends and family members.  Often, the debates turn into such bad arguments that people stop talking to one another and “unfriend” each other on social media.  What’s really disturbing is when this occurs among Christians.

Full disclosure here, I’m as passionate about my political beliefs as anyone else.  I’ve got very strong opinions on the matter.  However, I know I’m not going to convince anyone with opposing views by arguing with them.  Few people engaging in political debate from different political spectrums are actually open-minded and listening to the other side.  What they’re really doing is trying to identify weakness in the opposing logic in order to win the argument.  I’ve seen horrible comments made on social media to and about folks from the other side of the political spectrum.  Yes, Christians, I’m talking about you, too!  Never has bullying, labeling, name-calling, or mocking made anyone change their political persuasion.  All it does is divide people further.  So I would like to propose some guidelines for engaging in political debate.

Rule #1: Recognize the enemy.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

First, we must remember who the enemy is.  The enemy is not the person on the other side of the political spectrum.  The enemy is the devil.  Our fight is not against the individuals who hold different beliefs than we hold.  Our fight is against the spirits that desire to divide us.  The enemy knows that division will bring the house down, and the house that is at risk is families.  When families are divided, so then is the church.  If the enemy wants to divert focus from the kingdom of God, then he attacks the relationships that we hold dearest in this world.

One of the common spirits we fight while engaging in unhealthy debate is pride.  “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate,” says Proverbs 8:13.  The spirit of pride in political debate has not exclusively picked a party.  I see it on both sides of the political spectrum.  We all demand to be right!  But before you start pointing across the political aisle, you may want to get the telephone pole out of your eye!  “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”  (Proverbs 16:18)  The principality at play is pride – our pride, their pride, the spirit of pride.  Proverbs 13:10 says that “by pride comes nothing but strife.”  Yet we fall into the trap all the time when talking about politics.  We are allowing pride and the desire to be right to bring division.

Rule #2: Respond biblically.

But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Matthew 5:29 (NKJV)

How we respond to attacks will give more credibility than any words we could speak. Bullying, labeling, name-calling, and mocking occur when people don’t have confidence in their own position, so they must resort to condescension and arrogance.  Our instructions on how to encounter all people are very clear.  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law,” says Galatians 5:22-23.  In 2 Corinthians 13:7, Paul instructs us to “pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified.”  There are no disclaimers on these instructions based on political party or whether the other person is right or wrong.  We are not to repay evil with evil.  Humility will say more and display more strength than acting like those who are of the world.  As Proverbs 29:23 says, “a man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.”  Do you see it yet?  We’re engaging in spiritual warfare, not political debate!

Rule #3: Pray for your enemies.

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. Matthew 5:44 (NKJV)

As I said, few people have been won over by political debate, but if you’re concerned that your loved one is being deceived in his/her political beliefs, the answer is simple.  Pray for them.  It’s unlikely you’ll ever convince them to see the political culture from your point of view by tearing them down along with all that they believe.  However, I know One that can go before you!  The Holy Spirit can go places we cannot go and speak Truths we cannot speak.  Send the Advocate to plead your case among men.  If you truly think someone is in error with their political position, consider that a symptom of a larger spiritual issue.  Listen and pray about the underlying heart condition that manifests itself into misguided political alignment.  If you don’t know what to pray for, ask God to show you.  Here’s a challenge, though:  ask God to open your heart and ears first.  Consider first that you could be the one on the wrong side of the debate.  Isaiah 57:15 tells us that God is with those who are contrite and humble.  So get that telephone pole out of your own eye before you ask God to change someone else’s political mind.  Acts 7:51 says, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit.”  Don’t be that guy!

Maybe “that guy” is the person with whom you’re engaging in political debate.  Maybe he or she refuses the truth even from the Holy Spirit.  No harm done.  Pray for them anyway. “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;  For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the Lord will reward you” Proverbs 25:21-22.  So if you pray for your political opposite to get a clue and they still refuse to, it’s a reward for you either way.

Rule #4: Know your Identity.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

If you were to define your identity, what would come first — your faith in God or your political persuasion?  Shouldn’t your faith come first and encompass your political persuasion?  We know we are known by the fruit of our Spirit, so we need to make sure our fruit is in alignment with our identity in Christ.  If your political beliefs aren’t in line with your identity in Christ, then you may want to check the values of your political party.  If you engage in hateful commentary and spew word vomit on people, then you may want to go before the throne of God and ask God to transform your spirit.  As a Christian, I’ve been guilty of getting off track and putting other roles in my life ahead of my faith in Christ.  When we do that, people misidentify us as being part of the world instead of being in Him.  Remember, you are a child of God above all else.  We must strive to honor Him in our thoughts, deeds, and actions, regardless of the good intentions we may have.

America is under attack.  We are a house divided.  A house divided cannot stand.  This is spiritual warfare.  Recognize that the true enemy is attempting to divert us away from the prayer closet and into public debate in an effort to destroy families, friendships, churches, and the impact of the kingdom of God.  Don’t continue to be part of the problem by engaging in hateful rhetoric.  Be the change and the solution by allowing God to change you first and by praying for your political adversaries.  When the Holy Spirit moves before you, those you could have wasted time and energy debating will seek you out for Truth because you have proven yourself to be the salt and the light of Christ.

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