The problem with this justification, aside from it being an excuse for deception, is that particulars do matter. Maybe Palin has said some outlandish things in her career, but if she hasn’t said those particular words, then by sharing that story you are changing the way people understand her. Put differently, even when a general idea is true, if we misrepresent the particulars, we will necessarily misrepresent the general truth.
As Christians, we should know better than to spread untruths, even when we believe they further a greater, worthy cause. But if you pay attention, you will find people from elite politicians to average citizens accepting and practicing a political nihilism. The fear is that if we don’t exaggerate the facts, if we don’t overstate our argument, if we don’t make a threat sound more serious than it really is, if we don’t make up a few stories that could be true in some sense, then voters won’t be moved to act. And everything will remain the same or get worse.
What this logic assumes is that we cannot trust our neighbors. That we cannot hope all things about them and their ability to reason, understand complex issues, and vote. We treat our neighbors as children who have to be tricked in order to get them to do what we believe is best for them. This kind of hopelessness and disregard for our neighbors is paternalistic and unloving. And this logic denies the sovereignty of God by suggesting that we have cheat to save our country. If God is truly God, then recourse to sin is never necessary to make the world a better place, even in politics.
Hoping all things about our neighbors does not mean that we must be naïve. Not everyone has a college degree, not everyone has time to sort through the rationale between different policies, and not everyone has the resources to fact-check arguments they hear. To be realistic and yet hope all things means that we desire and hope our neighbors will engage thoughtfully with an issue at the level they are capable of given their life situation. The difference is that we should never lose hope in reasoning together such that we resort to coercion and power for the “greater good.”
As this political season rolls on, remember to love your voting neighbors, regardless of who they support and why. Love them, and in that love, hope that they can be reasoned with.
O. Alan Noble, Ph.D., is editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture and an assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University. He received his Ph.D. from Baylor in 2013. He and his family attend City Presbyterian in OKC. You may not follow him on Twitter.