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My favorite television show has been on a lot lately. At least that's what everybody in my house has been calling the long succession of Republican presidential debates. I love watching an election year unfold. Maybe it's the gladiatorial-combat-loving part of me.
Most people don't seem to share my taste for battle. Many complain about how raw and negative the process has become. But American politics has never been for the faint of heart. It has never had the smooth and civilized tone commentators (usually those whose side is losing) clamor about.
Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider "Honest Abe" in the election of 1860. To run as "Honest," is tantamount to calling one's opponent a liar. And while Lincoln may well have been one of this country's finest presidents, his Illinois Senate race debates against Stephen Douglas were brutal, three-hour, slugfests. "Corrupt bargains" were alleged in the elections of John Quincy Adams (1824) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), as well as in the ascendancy of Gerald Ford in 1974.
And if we look even further back in history, we find that hotly contested elections began as soon as George Washington left office. President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson were members of opposing political parties. The Twelfth Amendment was ratified during the Jefferson administration to prevent that from ever happening again.
It is fashionable to disparage party politics. In recent years a candidate considered "partisan" has been held suspect of serving personal ambition at the expense of the common good. But historically, there have been leaders of monumental significance who fully embraced the need -- and benefits -- of partisanship as a means for people to stand up for and advance the cause of shared principles.
The only other subject that approaches the divisiveness of politics is religion. That is why neither is very welcome in the discourse of daily life. I think that's sad. Sure, we ought to approach one another with respect; but we still ought to approach each other. When it comes to civil life, I am most tolerant of others when I am willing to listen to how and why they disagree with me. With regard to the spiritual life, I am most generous toward others when I am willing to share the fruit of my life experience, and the God who pilots me through it.
Sensitive subjects are sensitive because they matter so much. Over the course of the next several months leading up to next November's election, no matter who we listen to, we'll all hear the same thing: this presidential election is the most important of our lifetime. History will judge whether that is the case. But regardless of who takes the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol a year from now, the conversations we have about faith -- and those we don't -- will matter more.
Sharing our faith doesn't have to feel like an apologetics debate. There's no need for winners or losers, garnering supporters, or taking advantage of someone else's weaknesses. It isn't necessary to make the strongest argument, or have the best command of the facts. All we need is the courage of our convictions, the "fide" in confidence, and a genuine concern for any who might qualify as "neighbor."
As enthusiastic as I get about the body politic, I'm making a commitment to be more excited about the Body of Christ in this election year. As much as I love to follow candidates and issues, as energized as I become by the adrenalin rush of it all, I'm going to try to be more passionate about my own salvation and the salvation of everyone around me. Citizenship has its responsibilities and privileges, but none of them can surpass what I owe to God, or what he promises all who love him.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.