We follow Christ. We want to be active American citizens. In this day and age and in this culture of outrage, can we be both of those people at the same time? You see, this is something I struggle with on a day-to-day basis because — well, don’t hold this against me — I’m an elected official and I love Jesus.
As people who follow Christ, how we participate in the political process and how we lead when we have the opportunity matters.
At every online turn, there are opportunities to defame, criticize and offend. The schoolyard bully has become a grown-up and he is now the social media rock star! Then there are haters who want to be on TV so they attend city council meetings. Every two weeks I subject myself to all manner of criticism, some more constructive than others. I’m belittled, I’m questioned and second-guessed, I’m accused of being in the pocket of special interests, my job as a public relations consultant is smeared and my faith is called into question. I’ve learned that as soon as one is elected to public office, one by default becomes an idiot of the highest proportion. Tough lesson to learn. If I happen to find allies in local government from across the political aisle then I’m a turncoat, a castoff from my political party. Just how am I supposed to cope with these oppressive influences and honor God in the process? Ah… my favorite prayer comes to mind: “God, please don’t let me embarrass you.”
Look, it may not be pretty, but it’s where I am. And where are you? Where is our humility, our other-centeredness, our grace being born out in the world of politics? Are we so full of ourselves that we have forgotten that we’re all in the same hell-bound position but for the abundant grace and relentless pursuit of our God?
Hear me, God is in control. He is working mightily in my community and all over this world, but too often it’s in spite of his followers. We think we need to back a presidential candidate because the fate of the world hangs in the balance! We think Jesus cares about high-density housing and public employee pensions! We question each other’s faith when we disagree on these and many other issues. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but of highest importance? Give me a break! We all know what our Savior cares about. He came to set the captives free. He came to give abundant life, he came to care for widows and orphans and bring an everlasting hope. And he invited us to join him.
I joined him in my community as a member of our city council, and for the last four years I’ve had a front row seat as he’s healed divisions in our community, united our community in love for each other, brought dignity back to our people as they’ve loved their neighbors as themselves. I stand in awe of our God as I see disparate people in just the right position to all enable God’s work in the hearts of our residents; reconnecting the disconnected and taking hopelessness and turning it right into hope.
Tonight I read a Facebook post from a professing Christian who railed against me, my job and my service on the city council. He called my faith into question, calling me a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My initial thought was that I’ve never met this person. They claim Jesus, as I do, and yet instead of reach out personally to me, they went online to beg people to vote against me in this election. How often do each of us take action like that, without personal knowledge, without facts, guided only by the allegations of others. I’m called to something other than that, higher than that. God calls me to love people above all. That has to apply to politics and it has to characterize our political engagement or we are no different than the world.
Jesus stood out like a sore thumb in his community and that’s my new prayer starting right now, that I do too. I pray that as they hurl insults at me I make way for Jesus. Won’t you do that too? Commit to engaging in politics to further Jesus’ goals … to set the captives free, to care for widows and orphans, to bring light to a dark world. At no other time has our world so longed for radical love and hope. If we don’t point them to it through our grace and radical kindness … no one will.
Jennifer Fitzgerald was elected to the Fullerton City Council in November 2012, and served as mayor during the 2016 year. Council Member Fitzgerald represents the Council on several Orange County boards. She spoke at the Biola University Center for Christian Thought’s 2016 Table Conference on “Love and Humility in Politics.”