By / Nov 8

When you think about the political moment we find ourselves in, what thoughts and images come to mind? What emotions bubble to the surface? What motivations drive your political activity? How we answer these questions has significant implications for how politics is done in this country and how healthy we are as a body politic. And increasingly, we’re trending in the wrong direction on both. 

The results of a new national NBC News poll conducted in mid-October pulled back the curtain on Americans’ answers to some of these questions. And the findings (mostly) aren’t good. What has felt palpable and steadily on the rise over the last several years—anger, fear, and extreme partisanship—is spelled out clearly. In light of the midterm elections happening, the findings show we are a country highly interested in the political process but highly divided in our political calculus. And, alarmingly, we’re being driven to the polls in record numbers by a common motivation: anger. Here’s a rundown of some of the poll’s findings.

Major findings

On a positive note, the poll revealed that “voter interest has reached an all-time high for a midterm election.” Using a scale from one to 10, voters were asked to weigh their interest in this November’s elections, and a whopping 70% scored their interest either as a “9” or “10,” which is “the highest percentage ever in the survey for a midterm election at this point.” Eighty-one percent scored their interest at an “8” or above.

While having record-high voter interest and engagement is a positive development, the poll’s revelations about voter motivations and outlook are troubling. According to Mark Murray, “what stands out in the poll is the bipartisan anger among Democrat and Republican voters.” Furthermore, “Eighty-one percent of Democrats” and “an almost-identical share of Republicans” (79%) “say they believe [the other party’s] agenda poses a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.”

With findings like these, it’s no wonder voter interest has reached an all-time high—we have likened our political moment to an “existential crisis” of sorts. And when we view politics this way, as apocalyptic, then our political engagement becomes something resembling the Hunger Games rather than an exercise in bringing about public good. But Christians should know better. We should model a better way.

Anger isn’t the way

What’s clear from the NBC News poll is that American voters, both Republican and Democrat alike, are motivated primarily by their anger. Unhappy with the direction the country is heading and incensed by the opposing party’s platform and its leaders, voters intend to turn out in droves to make their indignant voices heard come election day. But this angry polarization and extreme partisanship is no way to get the country back “on the right track.” It only steers us further in the wrong direction and, when taken to its extreme, leads to senseless and tragic acts of violence like we witnessed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband

Christians should not be driven to the polls by anger. While episodes of appropriate anger may be warranted at times—as a response to injustice, for instance—an unremitting posture of anger and outrage is at-odds with the Spirit who lives in us. It means we are given over to “the works of the flesh,” as Paul outlines in the book of Galatians. We are not to check the fruit of the Spirit at the door of our local polling place, but are to “walk by the Spirit” right to the voting booth and exercise our Constitutional right for the good of our neighbor and the “welfare of the city. . . for in its welfare [we] will find [our] welfare” (Jer. 29:7). Instead of anger motivating our political engagement, we should be driven by love; love for God and love for our neighbors. 

American politics isn’t ultimate

Underneath voter anger and the hostilities associated with our extreme polarization is a phenomenon one political commentator calls the “ultimatizing” of politics. When politics are ultimate, as we seem to have made them, then each and every election is viewed through apocalyptic lenses. And when apocalypticism colors our view of politics, then it becomes a no-holds-barred contest of us versus them, where “we” view “them” as enemies of the state coming, as the poll shows, to “destroy America as we know it.” 

This kind of thinking inevitably turns our politics into an immoral maelstrom. And, at the personal level, it opens the door for moral compromise, a sort of win-at-all-costs mentality. When we freight elections with ultimacy, describing each one with phrases like “the most important in our lifetime,” we can develop a tendency to overlook or excuse the moral failings of the candidates on our side while trumpeting the purported missteps of those we oppose. We shuck prudence and our moral principles for political expediency, turning our political engagement into a form of moral gymnastics.

But politics shouldn’t be ultimate, every election shouldn’t be apocalyptic, and we shouldn’t see people who disagree with us on political issues as enemies of the state. Instead, as Patrick Schreiner argues, Christians need to put politics in its proper place. And we are to do that by “bring[ing] every part of our lives in conformity with Christ“—which most certainly includes the way we think about and practice our politics.

Politics in the way of Christ

Politics is important but it is not ultimate. When we ultimatize politics we pledge allegiance to the wrong kingdom and we lay moral burdens on ourselves and our fellow voters that politics simply isn’t built to bear. What’s more, our undiluted allegiance to party and politics forms and disciples us into an image at odds with Christ and his kingdom. But there is a better way. 

At a time when American politics has gone haywire, our system “needs people with joyful confidence who seek security not in politics but in Jesus.” In a system presently preoccupied with grabbing and holding power at all costs, the balm for our political milieu is a fresh dose of the fruit of God’s Spirit. In place of the moral compromise that is so normative, we need men and women of goodness and integrity; in answer to our vicious polarization, we need citizens who are committed to being kind and tactful; and instead of anger and outrage, we need a body politic compelled by love. 

While things continue to devolve, as the NBC News poll indicates, Christians bear the responsibility for showing the American electorate a better way, and for holding our elected officials to a higher standard. But in a culture where anger and outrage are growing, and where polarization is presumed to be a political requirement, it’s a task that demands courage and perseverance. Yet we are those who’ve been commanded to walk by the Spirit whose fruit is love, not anger; whose way is marked by kindness and gentleness, not outrage; and who lives inside us, empowering us to live “every part of our lives in conformity with Christ.” In American politics, as in all of life, we should not be known by our anger, our party, or even by our voting record. We should be known by our love: love of God and love of neighbor. 

By / Mar 30

I wrote about being a parent who is slow to get angry with their children on my blog, and a mother asked me that essential question: How?

Her question is one that many of us have asked. We see the beauty of grace contrasted with the ugliness that still lingers within us, and we find our hearts asking the same question. I can only attempt to answer as someone who knows much failure amid much grace. What follows are not theoretical or from the past, but they are intensely fresh, personal, present and real.

Before we can change what we do as parents, we often need to change how we think. Identifying thought patterns might seem purely theoretical and not of much practical help, but if what we do is often the overflow of how we think, perhaps it’s a good place to begin.

Four helpful realizations

1. Realize that the times when we are easily angered are often moments ripe with opportunity to teach our children.

Often, the moments when we are naturally angered are those times when we can teach our children about life, sin and grace. Conflict is a part of life in a sin-filled, broken world. For our children’s entire lives, they’re going to be dealing with it.

In those moments when we’re easily angered, our instinct tends to want to get things back to a state of peace and quiet as speedily and effortlessly as possible. The children are whining or fighting so we angrily snarl, “Enough. Stop it right now! I don’t want to hear it!” What a wasted opportunity. When it’s possible, we ought to be willing to take the time to patiently talk, listen and teach. In our haste to get back to peace, we sometimes forget the most important part: their hearts.

2. Realize that angry parenting is often deeply selfish.

Think of the words that usually escape our lips in our worst parenting moments: “I’m sick and tired of you guys fighting. I’ve had it up to here!” What’s striking about these phrases is that they’re all about me. They’re selfish phrases that give us a glimpse of our heart—our anger is about us and how their behavior is disrupting our life.

But parenting isn’t about us being sick of whining or fighting, is it? Ultimately, it’s not about us at all. It’s about our children and putting ourselves aside to love, nurture, teach and guide them. A quickly angered parent is a selfish parent whose peace and quiet is being disrupted. It can be helpful to realize afresh the intrinsically selfish quality of the easily angered parent and to remember that grace-filled parenting means caring more about others than ourselves.

3. Realize that being easily angered is less about lack of control and more about lack of desire.

When our kids do stuff in public that makes us mad, we often handle it differently than if we were at home by ourselves. We’re more patient, aren’t we? Kinder. Gentler. Tempered. In other words, we’re better parents. We really do have self control in moments of frustration. We really do have the capacity to respond the way we should. When I’m at home, unnoticed by others, it’s not that I lack the control to do what’s right. It’s that I lack the desire.

There’s a sadness in this because most of us truly care more about what our children think of us than a bunch of strangers. More than that, we care more about what God thinks about us. Yet, our actions often indicate otherwise. It can be helpful to remember that how we respond really is a choice, and the people who matter most see our parenting all the time.

4. Realize that becoming a slow-to-anger parent is often about reprogramming the muscle memory of the heart.

Much of our time in parenthood is spent reacting to things our children do. We all have patterns of reaction in our lives. When we reflect upon how we habitually react in moments of frustration, we’re able to discern our own pattern of reaction. For many who are quickly angered, the muscle memory of the heart is to react in anger instead of grace. When we find ourselves habitually reacting in anger, it means we need to repent and form new heart habits. Eventually, with time and much grace, we create a new rhythm that changes the muscle memory of our heart.

Four practical suggestions

1. Prepare in advance.

Before the day begins to unfold and begins to unravel, anticipate that your children will occasionally do frustrating things that annoy you and get under your skin, and then prepare to react with grace. Think about it, know it’s coming and then plan how you’ll respond.

Each day, our children are going to do many things that bring us joy and make us laugh. And with just as much certainty, our kids are going to do things that irritate and anger us. Why does it seem to catch us unprepared so that all we’re doing is reacting? Before the moments come, spend time praying and preparing your heart. We don’t just want to go through parenthood reacting. We want to be proactively changing.

2. Reflect at the end of the day.

When it’s been a good, joy-filled day with your children, take a few moments to reflect on why things went well and why you reacted in grace instead of anger. And similarly, when it’s been a difficult day and you’ve been angry and sinful, take a few minutes to reflect upon why it was a rough day. You might be surprised at the clarity of patterns and themes that emerge with this little exercise. One mark of mature, sanctified Christians is that they are often people who can identify those things which cause them to stumble and those things which help them soar.

3. Get enough sleep.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but for many it holds true that lack of sleep leads to lack of grace. When we’re tired, we’re irritable. And when we’re irritable, we are prone to becoming quickly angered instead of patient and gracious. Granted, there are some seasons where sufficient rest is impossible. But in the many other times when staying up too late is a choice, we ought to remember that it’s the people who matter to us most who will be on the receiving end of our tired, angry responses.

4. Avoid rushing.

When we’re rushing somewhere with our children, running late or haven’t allotted enough time, it can easily lead to frustrated, angry and impatient words. It doesn’t take being a parent for long to realize that, with young children, the simplest things can take way longer than we ever thought possible. It’s just the way it is.

A simple but helpful detail in how my heart and our family functions has been to become more organized and, along with this, to ensure that we have ample time to do whatever it is we need to do. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and there are many disclaimers, but when it’s within our power to do so, avoiding rushing is a simple yet helpful little tool to employ.

Why we have tremendous hope

Parenting is a journey. There are days when it seems like God’s grace pours into and out of us into our children. There’s good stuff happening in our home, and we’re filled with hope and excitement for the days ahead. Then there are days where it seems like anger and tears have been the theme.

But even during hard times, we have every reason to have tremendous hope. We're not alone. Truly, in our failures and in our joys alike, we're not doing this parenting thing alone. We live our lives beneath the shadow of his wings, and even as we parent our little ones, we’re being parented by a Father who loves us, is with us, and is helping us every step along the way.