Regardless of what side of the political aisle you fall on, pretty much all of us agree: the first presidential debate of the 2020 campaign was a disaster. CNN host Jake Tapper probably described it best when he called it “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.”
If you’re anything like me, it only took about 90 seconds for you to develop a splitting headache. It’s hard whether to know if we should be laughing or crying. Certainly, the situation is laughable. But it’s also incredibly serious: these are the two men who are attaining to the highest office in one of the most powerful nations in the world.
And as much as this truth might hurt, it’s moments like these where we collectively need to look within. Because this debate isn’t an unexpected aberration.
This is the kind of culture we have cultivated. These are the people we have collectively become–as Americans, and sadly even as Christians in America. Unfortunately, we Christians are not immune to taking on the tenor of our culture.
Nobody liked what they saw on that debate stage. So it’s important to take this moment to reflect and resolve to be something better. For the sake of our nation, and for the sake of our Christian witness.
Here are 3 important takeaways for Christians from the first presidential debate.
1. We should never demean one another.
Every person, whether you agree with them are not, is created in the image of God. They have dignity and value. In the words of John M. Perkins, “You don’t give people dignity…you affirm it.” If we’re being honest, we are a society that has often failed to affirm the dignity of others.
We’re all prone to demean and personally attack those whom we disagree with. We insult them, question their intelligence, and deliver low blows to discredit them.
In the presidential debate, this ethic was on full display. At one point, President Trump taunted Vice President Biden, warning him to “never use the word smart” with him, because “there is nothing smart” about Biden. At another point, Biden told Trump to “shut up.” Later, he called the president a “clown.” This event was intended to be a debate about important issues, but it quickly descended into the kind of conversation that typically precedes a bar fight.
And while it’s easy to point fingers, when it comes to our social media accounts and private conversations, most of us are no more civilized than these two men were on that stage. But the thing is that we need to be.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
We need a great deal of healing. And if you are a follower of Jesus, you have the unique ability and obligation to be a part of it. At the very least, we need to be more careful with what bile we allow to spill out of our mouths.
While your memory of your own words often fades quickly, the echo of what you said reverberates long after an emotional flare up has subsided. And Jesus tells us that we’ll be called to account for that.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36)
Use words wisely–always to build up and never to tear down or demean.
2. Listening is vital.
As I sat on my couch watching the debate unfold, I was chatting with some friends on social media about what we were all collectively suffering through. As the two candidates shouted each other down, one friend stated baldly: “This is absolutely unintelligible.”
And that’s what happens when a room is full of people who want to talk but devoid of people who want to listen. Rage-filled chaos ensues.
That’s why James urges us to be people who are quicker to listen than to speak.
“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. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21)
So, to summarize, just do the exact opposite of everything you saw in the presidential debate and you’ll be headed in the right direction.
When you feel strongly about something, it can be so tempting to bulldoze over everyone else to make your point. Fight that urge. Be quick to listen and dignify the perspective of other people.
You might not ever fully agree with them. But you might learn something. And at the very least, you avoid sinning against them by misrepresenting their view or becoming unreasonably angry with them. When you speak without ever listening, wickedness runs rampant in your life.
3. Serving is much more important than winning.
Because both candidates were single mindedly focused on simply beating the other, we all ended up losing. We all just got frustrated, aggravated, and discouraged.
This is not leadership.
And yet we’re all prone to this type of outlook on the world. We tend to believe that unless we step over others to get our way, our needs will never be met and our voices will never be heard. We operate with a fear-based, scarcity mentality that causes us to go on the attack in an effort to “win” rather than seeking to be a benefit to others.
The good news for us is that Jesus’ first followers struggled with the same thing. Here’s how Jesus addressed the problem.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:25-28)
Important to note is that the Kingdom ethic of leadership runs completely counter to the natural order of things. Jesus says as much himself. Lording your power over others is the most natural thing in the world. It’s only by the Spirit of Jesus that we can begin to flip the script. And that’s exactly what we need to do.
Instead of operating from a mindset that tells you that you need to step on others before they step on you, choose to cultivate a mindset of sacrificial service. Lay down your time, resources, opinions, and need to be heard for the good of others.
If you’re willing to take that leap of faith and be a sacrificial servant, what you’ll find is that we all end up winning.
We are better than this.
At the end of the day, Christians are better than this. Or, that is, by the power of Jesus, we can become better than this. We have the power to bring order out of chaos, compassion out of outrage. Now is a perfect opportunity to put that power on full display.
Light shines brightest into darkness. This is what Jesus has commissioned us to do.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
May you provide the kind of contrast to the world that causes people to give glory to God.