If I could pick one word to describe the 2016 election season, it would be anger. Throughout the campaign, from the primaries to the general election, it seems both sides have fed off of a sense of anger.
On the left, we saw the fiery, spitting rancor of Bernie Sanders and his brand of class warfare on steroids (helped no doubt by his crotchety, “you kids get off my lawn” demeanor). Black Lives Matter has tapped into a vein of vitriol over unresolved issues of race in our society, and it has been reflected in the election. Even the eventual Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, projects a certain crankiness in her delivery.
On the right, Donald Trump rode a wave of populist anger and disappointment to the top of the Republican ticket, running as a sort of outsider to the disillusioned before becoming the very establishment he railed against. Trump’s emergence has lit fires among his backers and his detractors—especially among his supporters, many of whom seem to be a bitter lot. And don’t forget: the “alt-right” has inserted ugly elements of xenophobia and racism into the discourse.
All this anger has made this campaign season so tiring, but it didn’t have to be this way. In fact, anger shouldn’t play a role in our political decisions—especially for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ.
The small group I’m in at church is going through the book of James. One verse stuck out to me in this week’s discussion, particularly in regard to this election cycle. Jesus’ brother James tells the early church:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20 (ESV)
And James isn’t the only one who weighed in on anger in the scriptures:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27 (ESV)
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:9 (ESV)
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. Psalm 37:8 (ESV)
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Colossians 3:8 (ESV)
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is such a thing as righteous anger; Jesus demonstrated that perfectly when He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13). Our frustration and indignation should inspire us to positive action, but we shouldn’t carry emotions like these to the ballot box.
Billy Graham once said, “Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything.” Our love of this nation should never take us so far as to vote or choose a candidate to support based solely on emotion. Like everything else in the life of a believer, exercising our right—and duty—to vote should include prayer and careful consideration, and both of those factors should outweigh our emotions.
The prophet Jeremiah delivered the Lord’s words to the Israelites exiled in Babylon:
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV)
Voting out of anger does not seek the welfare of this nation; rather, a vitriolic vote merely aims to assuage those emotions.
Let’s face it: voting out of rage and animosity has saddled us with these candidates we’re stuck with now, and we can’t change that at this point. But, as you approach your vote this November, rather than vote based on emotion, pray before you vote, and vote for the candidate for whom the Holy Spirit leads you to vote.
In November, and after 2016, we Christians should commit to never vote out of anger again.