What has mercy got to do with the general elections?

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

We are just a couple of days away from voting and I have made it this far in the election campaign without arguing with anyone. As someone who is very engaged in politics and cares deeply about poverty in our nation, this seems like a minor miracle. Arguing with family, friends and even fellow Christians has been part and parcel of the weeks running up to previous election days. But this year I have been making a conscious effort to focus on mercy, justice, and humility.

'Mercy' is not a word many of us would naturally associate with a general election. Our society is deeply polarised, and there is nothing like an election campaign to bring out the worst in us when it comes to hostility towards people we disagree with. In our current cancel culture, to say that we struggle to disagree well is a massive understatement.

Mercy is rare. In the world around us, we do not see much loving-kindness in action towards those who do not deserve it. But more troubling for me, as a Christian, is that just as I cannot find much mercy around me, I often struggle to find it within me too.

But this time, so far so good. I have managed not to argue with anyone and, to the best of my knowledge, have been able to put across my views with humility and gentleness, without offending anyone. Well, I hope so. That's been my goal. I have had to bite my tongue a number of times, keep a close watch on my use of social media when it comes to political comments, and avoid my Uncle Bob.

If you have a family member who has different political preferences to you, no doubt you'll have experienced some tense or argumentative family gatherings over the years, and maybe avoided each other over the last few weeks. Whenever we went to my aunt and uncle's home for Christmas, my mum would urge me not to start a conversation with my Uncle Bob about anything affecting our nation. Whether it was healthcare, education, immigration, employment, welfare – any topic that could lead to an argument about politics was off limits.

But Bob and I couldn't help ourselves. Sooner or later, one of us would make just the teeniest, tiniest comment, and then we'd be off, arguing about why this politician or party is better than that one.

Maybe you've got an 'Uncle Bob'. Maybe you are an 'Uncle Bob'!

Political conversations can be hostile at the best of times, but they tend to become even more polarised and angry in the build-up to a general election. Christians are not immune. To be honest, when it comes to talking about political issues and parties, my arguments may differ to those put forward by Uncle Bob, but my tone and attitude often sound the same, even though I am a Christian and he is not.

Even in the Church, an election campaign can cause Christians to turn differences of opinion into walls of division. We can start to see the people we disagree with as our enemies, forgetting that our 'tribe' is the people of God, not our political party. We are called beyond partisan thinking – our primary allegiance is elsewhere, and aligning ourselves with Scripture always means thinking beyond any one party line. No politician or party has the monopoly on wisdom.

Followers of Jesus are called to "love mercy" (Micah 6:8) and to "be merciful, just as [our] Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

Loving mercy and being merciful during a General Election means, for starters, remembering that politicians are made in the image of God. All of them. Every single one of them. Even the one you're thinking of right now who delights in policies you consider to be evil.

Every person was created by God and is made in His image, which means we should speak of and treat everyone with respect, honouring their Maker.

But each one of them is flawed and sinful too, just like we are, which means we shouldn't hold any of them on a pedestal or be surprised when they're not perfect.

Holding these two facts together – that we are all image-bearers and fallen – can help us Christians to model mercy to those around us.

Speaking up for justice may involve tearing down arguments, but loving mercy means we don't tear down image-bearers.

So when we go to the polling stations this week, what should set apart followers of Jesus from those who don't know Him isn't who we vote for, but how we vote. Christians are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). If we engage with politicians, policies, and each other on this basis, even when we strongly disagree, we will be distinctive from the culture around us, as we should be.

Natalie Williams is CEO of Jubilee+ and author of 'Tis Mercy All – The Power of Mercy in a Polarised World published by SPCK.