A Tirzah Girl's Guide to Politics
You can't avoid it, especially if you're living in the United States: politics. With the 2016 presidential elections approaching, hopeful candidates have been campaigning for years, and millions of dollars have been funneled into each campaign. Despite the huge presence of politics in our lives today though, many young women prefer to (1) remain ignorant, or (2) take the positions of their parents or close friends. There is nothing wrong with either of those options, but this year, I challenge you to get educated and make up your own mind.
There are major issues being debated in our country (and around the world!) right now - from gay rights and abortion, to where your tax dollars go. And you have a say in it. Maybe you've heard people complain that your one vote really doesn't count, but the point is this: if you're not going to vote, then don't complain about the issues that you could have had a say in it, but chose not to exercise your right.
And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. -Jeremiah 29:7
Politics don't have to be intimidating or scary (for years, I was terrified of politics - I felt like I could never have an educated opinion - at least not enough to vote or stand up for my beliefs!). But, I've learned that if this immigrant girl can become politically savvy, then so can you. Regardless of your age, socio-economic standing, or political alliance (or lack of!), here are a few tips to get you thinking about the big issues facing us today.
Register to vote and then VOTE.
If you're 18 or older and an American citizen, you can register to vote. If you're one of our international readers, check out your country's voting requirements. Then, register to vote! Usually you'll be asked to register when you renew your driver's license or pay your property taxes. In most states you can do it online in a few minutes, and when voting season comes around, voting takes only a few minutes.
Take the time to research how voting works in your area - for example, local and county ballots are often less publicized than state-wide elections. Find out where and when voting takes place (usually it's at schools and public buildings). If you're in college and away from home, you can ask for an absentee ballot be mailed to you so you can still vote even though you're not physically present in your voting district.
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. -Proverbs 11:14
This is probably the most important piece of advice when it comes to politics: know what you're talking about. Don't rely on what your parents, teachers, friends or your favorite news channel taught you. Make up your own mind. It may take some extra legwork, but it's so worth it.
If you're in college, take an economics or policy class. At the very least, sign up for a Politics 101 class that will fulfill one of your general education requirements.
Read books and studies on different topics. Look at the data. Consider different viewpoints. Pick one topic per month and educate yourself on it: abortion, federal funding, the impact of legalizing marijuana, taxes, how our government is set up, etc. For example, the naturalization exam that you would need to take to become a U.S. Citizen covers all the basics of the U.S. government - you can access all the study materials and exam questions online!
Skimm Guides are also super helpful. They are bulleted, easy to read guides on major issues and world events: from ObamaCare, the UN General Assembly, to immigration, it's a quick way to get educated.
As for the fun part: travel to your nation's capital. If you're in the U.S., book a trip to D.C. when you can. Being able to tour Congress and visit all the famous landmarks really puts a lot of things into perspective - especially how blessed we are to live in this country of ours (even with all of it's flaws!).
Stay informed on world issues + politics.
You don't need to gorge yourself on news to stay up to date on what's going on in the world. In fact, a little goes a long way! For example, I rely on The Skimm to keep me posted on what's happening in the U.S. and around the world. If you sign up for their newsletter, you'll get a daily email with brief news updates. It takes 5 minutes to read, it's witty, and includes links to other sources if you want delve deeper into a certain topic.
You can also subscribe to a daily news site or pick up a real newspaper (most college campuses give their students free subscriptions to major newspapers and the local paper!). Smart phones nowadays also have apps where you can view news and even get notifications for major world events. Now, this doesn't mean that you need to know everything that is going on in the world (there is way too much negativity and fear on the news nowadays!), but stay on top of major events.
In the book of Obadiah, God tells the people of Edom that they will be punished because they stood by and did nothing as Israel was tormented and persecuted by other nations. They watched terrible things happen to their neighboring nations, and although they did not participate directly in any of the conflicts, they also did not help when they could have. Later, in the book of Amos, God says He will punish the people of multiple nations for participating in evils like the slave trade and neglecting the poor. As Edmund Burke once said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
In 2014, when hundreds of people in Iraq were stranded on a mountain as they attempted to religious persecution, we did a two part series on how we can help and why we should care. In these kinds of situations, people need our help and they need our prayers. But, if you don't know these things are happening, then you can't help. So, stay informed. You may not be able to do much to help in your current season, but you can always pray.
Know what you stand for.
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock; and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. -Matthew 7:24-25
This is really the reason for this post: if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. If you don't educate yourself and stay informed, you'll be easily swayed by what is said on the news, by your parents, friends, and professors. As Christians, we have a higher standard: we must establish our beliefs on the word of God.
As you're reading up on different issues as we discussed above, look to see what the Bible says on each issue. It takes time, but it's so worth it, because a strong, unshakeable, Scriptural foundation is vital!
Once your beliefs are firmly established, it is much easier to speak up with your informed opinion - whether it's in class discussions, conversations with friends, or even in speeches when you run for an elected position.
Volunteer for what matters to you.
As you're doing your research and educating yourself on major issues, you might stumble across something that sets your heart on fire - whether it's fighting for the rights of unborn babies or getting more (young) women in office, there are hundreds of non profits, organizations, and ministries catering to different causes. Every single one of those organizations is always looking for volunteers - just visit their website, email, or call for information on how to get involved.
If you're a college student, non-profit organizations would love your help especially! In fact, most of them will waive dues or registration fees, pay for your expenses to attend their conferences, and some city government organizations even have board positions reserved for college students! For example, in college, I got involved with my local chapter of League of Women Voters and through it, I have met the kindest, most wonderful women who are truly doing amazing things in my community.
If you want more exposure to the political world or if you find a candidate you really believe in, offer to volunteer for their campaign. Campaigns always need volunteers and you can get some good assignments and experiences real quick if you're willing to pay your dues and stick around long-term. At first, it might be a lot of cold calls, stuffing mailers, and other grunt work, but you'll quickly learn that every little bit counts when it comes to running for office! To get involved, reach out directly to the campaign, or if you're in college, find your local College Democrats or College Republicans groups on campus. Each political party also has offices in most major cities and in every state.
If you find an issue you're particularly passionate about, write a letter to your Congressperson or start a petition. You'd be surprised at how much power our generation has today with our access to technology!
Finally, if you're still doubtful that one person can make a difference, I urge you to read Love, Skip, Jump by Shelene Bryan. The founder of Skip1.org, she writes about how God taught her to serve others in small ways both at home, and abroad.
Pray for our government leaders.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks to be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. -1 Timothy 2:1-4
Humans always tend to think that we have more power than we really do - we think that we elect people to office and that we make things happen. But there is someone so much bigger and more powerful out there who holds this world in His hands. The authorities that exist are appointed by God (Romans 13:1, Daniel 2:20-23, Job 12:23-25).
I have heard a lot of Christians do a lot of complaining about President Obama. But, don't forget that God allowed him to be our president for 8 years. God then asked us to obey (Titus 3:1-2) and pray for him, no matter how much you disagree with his political views or actions. Now, if the government calls for you to violate your religious beliefs in order to obey the authorities, then that's a different discussion. Generally though, don't be a hater. Pray about it instead!
Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. -1 Peter 2:17
Make a list of the people in charge of your town, city, state, and country. Tape it on your prayer room/wall/journal and carry them to God. Pray for His will to be done and that these people's positions of power will be used for good, not for evil. Pray that they may have wisdom to do what is right, to stand up for the little guy, and to always rule righteously. God hears your prayers and, just like that one vote, it makes a difference.
Keep yourself in check.
But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. -Titus 3:9-11
With politics, it's so easy to get caught up in hours of debate - everyone has an opinion and there are way too many controversial issues nowadays. As you get educated and stay informed, you'll want to talk about what you learn. But, be careful.
A few personal tips that work for me:
Refrain from engaging in political debates online.
Not on Facebook, email, or in comments of articles/websites. It's so easy to post a snarky political comment on your Facebook wall, but ask yourself if that is something that you want your future employer to see or if it's something you want memorialized online for eternity. For example, the Library of Congress actually archives all published tweets - even the ones you delete! Besides, on the Internet, nothing is every truly gone once you delete it! Furthermore, it's easy to be rude, stubborn, and inconsiderate when you're hiding behind a computer screen - it's why cyber-bullying is such a big deal in our world today; people say dumb things online because they feel invincible. So, don't be that person. If you must share your political ideas with the world, find a productive way to channel those thoughts: volunteer for a campaign, write your Congressperson, start a blog, or keep a journal.
But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. -2 Timothy 2:23
Be kind and respectful. Always.
If you're going to start a political conversation with someone, know your boundaries, and be kind. Don't interrupt the other person. Just because someone's opinion is different from yours, doesn't make it wrong, nor should it threaten you. Listen with respect, even if you 100 percent disagree with the other person. Sometimes, people just want to be heard - they don't want you to switch to their position, they just want to know that you respect them enough to listen without condemning or judging them. Debates can be good, but only if they're done the right way and in the right places (a work dinner is probably not the best venue!). Also, know when to stop. Sometimes, you can go in circles for hours without getting anywhere, so know when to call it quits and walk away (kindly, of course!). That being said, if you have to raise your voice, you need to stop. In law school, we're taught that if you have to resort to raising your voice, then you have a losing argument. When yelling is your last resort to prove you're right, then you're probably wrong.
Monitor how it's impacting you.
If you're consumed by politics or controversial debates so much so that it's cutting into other areas of your life: food, sleep, school, or work, then you need to scale it back or take a fast from it all. Because although it's important to stay educated and to keep informed, it should not be at the expense of your health or your main priorities. Most importantly, it should not be negatively impacting your spiritual life or your relationships. If you're spending more time reading and meditating on the latest news articles and political conversations than you are on prayer and Bible study, then you seriously need to re-think your priorities. God first, always. Because trust me, I know how fast these things can become idols that suck away our time, energy, peace, and joy.
If you don't know what you're talking about, then don't talk about it.
Y'all, a moment of honesty: I used to be (and sometimes still am!) that person who has an opinion on everything - even if I don't really know what I'm talking about. God has really been teaching me to maintain a gentle and quiet spirit; to use my words wisely and to only speak what is edifying, informed, and necessary. I'm finally getting to a point where I don't have to engage in every debate that happens. In fact, I'm more likely to walk away from a debate or admit I don't know enough to voice my opinion on a topic. It's just not worth it to me anymore to waste my time arguing over pointless issues that I maybe don't have an educated opinion about or just don't care enough about to spend time on. Pick your battles and know your stuff. Otherwise, walk away.