How to win an election (and lose in life)

Since I’ve already discussed spiritual applications from political matters such as primaries and debates, I thought I might as well complete the cycle and go all the way to election day this week.

It serves little purpose to discuss why it is that Candidate X aspires to win a particular election.  Ostensibly it is an opportunity to serve, to enact policy, to “take out the trash,” or some other noble goal.  Often it is more personal than that — a paycheck, security, fame, personal legacy, or just plain vanilla ego.  In any case, the election comes first.  If you don’t get the box of Cracker Jacks, you don’t get the prize at the bottom of the box.

The secret to winning elections is anything but secret: tell the people what they want to hear.  The trouble is, they don’t all want to hear the same thing.  Naturally, vague promises of a better standard of living, security from outside threats, and hope for an even brighter tomorrow will draw a lot of attention.  But in our nation, anyway, the electorate wants something more substantial than that.  So conversation typically drifts quickly to, or even opens with, policy discussions — tax rates, budgets, regulations, societal conflicts, international policy, etc.  Appealing to one constituency pretty much guarantees repelling a different one.  So the pragmatist modifies the aforementioned secret: tell the people what most of them want to hear.  Majority rules.  That’s fair.

But that’s not always best.  The majority is frequently wrong.  So the candidate whose principles happen to be out of favor in a particular election cycle is left with a dilemma: appeal to the people on the basis of where they already are, or defend the truth effectively enough to get them to change their minds.  If it’s not too cynical for me to say, I suggest the first one is more likely to produce a win at the polls.  Plus it provides flexibility; you can always go back to your principles after you win.  “Bait and switch” is a despised tactic, but it can be very effective.  (And I’m pretty sure we covered deception and hypocrisy earlier.)

When the kingdom of Jesus Christ is placed in human hands, results (to put it mildly) vary.  Sometimes we are true to our calling and truly present ourselves as the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23).  But other times we find ourselves a bit power-mad.  We place it in our own hands to produce results, like a candidate on election day.  To “win,” we feel compelled to appeal to the majority.  The more people we bring to Christ, the more glory goes to Him.  And if we get a little glory ourselves for our tremendous performance, that’s not so bad either.

The problem is in the premise.  Jesus hasn’t commissioned us to baptize as many people as possible.  Like Paul (1 Corinthians 1:17), our job is to preach the gospel — His gospel — and let the chips fall where they may.  Whatever increase that comes is a result of His work, not ours (1 Corinthians 3:7).  Therefore it is wrongheaded to tamper with our core beliefs to win over the masses.

But it’s worse than that.  Not only are we showing a lack of faith in Jesus and His gospel, or giving a tainted picture of what Jesus wants, or convincing people they are right with God when they have not truly committed to Jesus; we are actually assuming that our plan will work better than God’s plan — which is to say, that we are smarter and more powerful than God.  Surely none of us would be bold enough to accept that characterization, but it stands nevertheless.  If we do not believe God can save souls in an adequate fashion without our tweaks to His plan, we are rejecting His sovereignty, His wisdom, and His power.  Space does not permit an adequate catalog of the ones who took similar positions in Bible times and lost their souls in the process.  Suffice it to say, we had best not walk in their footsteps if we want to avoid their fate.