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A Christian Approach to Politics and Social Media

A conversation on healthy social media consumption and godly engagement.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, a pastor asked Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, how he could help his church deal with their strong passions that flared over issues and candidates. Mouw had bad news for the pastor: It was too late. You teach your people how to deal with political passions before the election season starts, before their emotions become so inflamed, they can’t hear what you’re saying.

The story was retold by Dr. Allen Tennison, theological counsel for the Assemblies of God. In general election years, political opinions that have simmered over time finally come to a boil. They divide families, friends, and even churches. That’s why Tennison, 51, knows the upcoming election isn’t just about voting in a president but about how Christians conduct themselves in the process — especially on social media.

It’s easy to see why. The constant chatter on Facebook, Instagram, X, and other platforms is a natural breeding ground for clashing views on politics. Mark Forrester, director of Communications and Public Relations at the General Council of the Assemblies of God, saw this back in 2018. In his article “In the Face of Hostility,” he wrote, “Some social media users seem determined to live in a perpetual state of conflict, thriving on the energy of debate.”

Forrester, 43, reflects on that statement today. “Simply put, the more time you spend on a certain social media platform, the more money they make. Users tend to see content they would engage with or spend more time consuming. Unfortunately, this leads to an insular approach to consuming media that, over time, tends to polarize audiences and devalue other points of view.”

Forrester wrote his article to help believers evangelize in social media’s hostile environment. But now many Christians have become part of that hostility, airing their political convictions in the power of the flesh instead of with the fruit of the Spirit.

Why all the emotion, and why does it divide us?

To explain, Tennison reaches back to James Madison. In The Federalist Papers (1788), Madison writes that humanity is infused with human passions that have divided us into parties and inflamed us with a “mutual animosity.” These passions drive us to oppress each other, rather than work for the common good.

Though such separation isn’t new in American politics, the rise of social media has made it worse.

Tennison clarifies what’s happening. “Social media is driven by algorithms that are designed for outrage. So what comes across our feed are the things that will enrage us because that keeps our eyes glued to the screen.”

Things that anger us drive us deeper into the confines of our “political tribe,” as Tennison puts it. We don’t trust anyone who doesn’t share our beliefs.

What alarms Tennison is that many believers follow this pattern. They are discipled more by influences outside the church than by those within the church. Instead of Scripture, social media or the news shapes how they think.

Even worse, believers have fallen prey to idolatry in their political positions. The good values they stand for have taken on sacred status, to the point of replacing God on the throne. When this happens, Tennison says, “I end up worshipping at the altar of the good rather than at the altar of God.”

In this environment, a political party’s ideology becomes everything, and Christians dive into social media debates to defend it.

“We turn every political vote as if it's a cosmic battle between good and evil,” Tennison says. “And if the wrong person wins, it's as if the universe has now sided for evil. We treat every political fight as if it's somehow eschatological. That's politics becoming religion.”

Is it too late for believers to mute their political passions in this election season? Hopefully not. But it will require tough choices.

Tennison explains, “The problem still comes down to what we're choosing to consume, that I'm choosing to consume things that keep me angry. I'm choosing to consume things that keep me distrustful. I'm choosing to consume things that, in a sense, are not leading me deeper into having a Christlike patience or kindness toward other people.”

He continues, “As soon as I recognize what I'm consuming, what I'm putting in front of me, what I'm going to bed thinking about — is it making it harder for me to act like Jesus?”

If the answer is yes, it may be time for believers to limit exposure to the negative news they tune in to. It may also be time for a social media fast or to spend fewer hours on it. All can follow Forrester’s advice: “Pray before you post.”

It is definitely a good time to check in with the Holy Spirit. Tennison explains, “We have to say, ‘Holy Spirit, You are the one that is producing fruit within me. I want to cooperate with You and not fight against You on all these things.”

Forrester is more specific, pointing believers to Galatians 5 to insure their words are packed with spiritual fruit: “Does the post I’m making show love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control? Or, as verse 26 warns, are my posts conceited, provoking, or envious?”

Before candidates’ placards bloom on the landscape, Christians can make sure they reflect the image of Christ in the social media mayhem.

“The point is not that we all have to agree on everything,” Tennison reminds us. “The point is that we have to learn how to disagree in a way that still honors God.”

Sherri Langton

Sherri Langton, associate editor of Bible Advocate magazine and Now What? e-zine, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Focus on the Family, Decision, Upper Room, Today’s Christian Woman, and other publications. Langton, who lives in Denver, also has contributed to book compilations.