When Politics Becomes An Idol
For most of my freshman year of college I was known as "Reagan-Bush girl." I had no less than 4 different Reagan-Bush '84 shirts in various shades of red and blue, my laptop was adorned Rand Paul stickers, and I don't mean to brag, but my collection of flag tops was pretty impressive. My interest in politics went well beyond the casual interest you'd expect from someone my age; I was obsessed. All of my favorite Presidents had a spot on my dorm room wall — Reagan, Coolidge, W — right next to my friends and family.
Looking back on it, it's clear to me that at the time, politics was my religion. I certainly spoke with more passion about Reaganomics than I ever did about the Bible. This wasn't normal or healthy, but it wasn't completely unusual either. We all know people for whom politics is second only to faith, with the lines being completely blurred during election season. While this isn't a new phenomenon, the dawn of social media has augmented it, and I think it's worthy of thoughtful consideration.
Politicians are perhaps the most insidious of idols. Of course, the occupation is biblical, but we tend put them on a pedestal more often than others. When we elevate politicians to the level of God we are effectively saying that salvation is found in the ballot box. The answer to our country's problems we tell ourselves is simply a presidential or midterm election away. Talk radio is another extension of the gospel, and pundits are prophets. We trust politicians to do the right thing, to fight the correct battles, and to uphold our moral principles. We expect a lot from our politicians, but perhaps we shouldn't.
Being too invested in politics — or anything else for that matter — can distract us from our ultimate mission: to live in accordance with the Word. Even politicians who say the right thing (pun intended) and pay lip service to our causes don't necessarily have those in mind while they're in D.C. Elected officials are not saints, nor are they God's mouthpieces. Today everything has a political angle. Whenever something bad happens, it's the fault of the other party and its leaders. Conversely, we believe our party to be the chosen party, the one God obviously prefers. It's foolishness on our part to believe the scope of biblical principles can be captured in the platform of any political party — that's just not the nature of politics and certainly not the nature of the scriptures.
Now don't mistake a desire for keeping God central with the idea that we then have no stake in politics. No matter how much I dislike politicians and our electoral system, I don't believe that to be true. However I do take exception with the idea that in politics God takes sides, and one person or party has a monopoly on scripture. Attempting to fit our understanding of the Bible into our narrow political landscape leads us to electing "compassionate conservatives" or to voting for "hope and change" that never materializes. And yes, there are plenty of people even today that will tell you Jesus himself would have voted for Bush, Obama, or any number of other politicians. It goes without saying that not all religious people are this way, but many are, and that is why we have to continually remind ourselves of Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to man by which we must be saved."