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“But do this with gentleness and respect”

Christians must practice the art of civic hospitality in the 2024 election—and beyond

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“But do this with gentleness and respect”
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You can already sense it’s coming if it’s not here already—that little nervous knot in your stomach when you anticipate what might come up in conversation at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, or that twinge of anxiety when the notification pops up telling you that someone on your social media feed is pushing buttons again on the right or the left. Worse yet may be the unsolicited texts and emails propagating some unlikely story in an attempt to garner your financial support for this or that campaign.

Yes, it’s here—another political campaign season.

Of course, we know we should be grateful. We get to vote and choose our leaders, and arguably very few Christians have been better situated than we are with regard to political freedom and economic opportunity. And yet, something about our national fabric these days feels frayed. Political differences and antagonisms have seeped into almost every sphere of our lives. We no longer just disagree with family and neighbors on the other side of an issue. Rather, we can hardly comprehend that “they” believe what they do.

As the 2024 election cycle looms before us, how do we, as Christians, respond to the erosion of civility? How can we act like salt and light as we navigate the political conversation? How can we advocate for our views as citizens of our country while keeping our heavenly citizenship front and center in our minds?

More than tolerance and even respect, as necessary as those things are in today’s political minefields, we need to practice civic hospitality, a concept that’s grounded in God’s love for us and in His call for us to love our neighbor.

And we need to start this practice young.

First, engaging in civic hospitality means we must love our neighbors as ourselves. This approach means we assume goodwill from those with whom we disagree. If we have political enemies or adversaries, we have it on good authority that God calls us to love them, and not assuming the worst about them is a good start to doing just that.

It’s in our most heated moments—when we’re challenged to step into difficult conversations—that we should react with civility and grace.

Second, we should explain our convictions, our political reasons, with “gentleness and respect,” rather than to score points or land the perfect snarky retort. It’s in our most heated moments—when we’re challenged to step into difficult conversations—that we should react with civility and grace. Even more, as agents of renewal in God’s world, we are called to lead the way in bringing people together.

Third, we should remember that ultimately we are in sales and God is in management. While we have a role to play in voting and persuading each other in a democracy, we know that our political sovereignty is a pale shadow of the real sovereignty of the living God. He calls us to be faithful in our witness, whether in politics or anything else, but we will not always be successful. At the same time, the reason this counsel is easy to say and hard to do is because it is only possible through the grace of God cultivating our character through practice and education. The practice of civic hospitality requires us to think long term so that we can do better in the short term.

That is why educating young people matters. If our children can learn what it means to practice civic hospitality, they will take to it much better when they are older and put to the test in our increasingly pluralistic and secular culture.

It was with this in mind that some of us at Calvin University developed The Civic Hospitality Project to help Christian teachers and parents prepare their students to love their neighbors amid disagreement and even rancor in the public square. The program today serves as a resource to help Christians think generationally and not just in the here and now.

Yes, we can be confident that God will see us through Election 2024, even as we do our part to honor Him and our neighbor. But, as we consider the season, let’s do more than play nicely this election. Let’s play the long game by preparing our younger brothers and sisters who will serve as witnesses for generations to come by practicing Christian civic hospitality.

Micah Watson

Dr. Micah Watson is an associate professor at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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