As we approach the start of primary season, it has become impossible to avoid signs of the upcoming presidential election. Amid the events, commercials, articles, and memes, I noticed one “campaign” making waves: IDK Not Trump Tho.
Comedian Dave Ross coined the slogan (text-speak for “I Don’t Know, Not Trump Though”), and he’s offering the logo for bumper stickers, yard signs, and T-shirts. It’s one of those jokes with an underlying truth to it; IDK Not Trump Tho clearly resonates with voters struggling to identify with a particular candidate or even a major party.
Many of us in the 18-to-34 range find ourselves in this position—compelled by major issues related to justice, race, and the economy, yet disconnected from the politicians themselves. A Pew Research Center report on Millennials in Adulthood found that this generation is “unattached to organized politics,” with 50 percent of millennials identifying as political independents. Further, less than a third of us see a strong difference between Republican and Democratic parties.
Many of my fellow 20- and 30-somethings—especially Christians—find themselves “politically homeless.” They can’t position themselves on the political spectrum, at least not consistently. They might support traditionally conservative positions on life or economics and progressive views on immigration policy or marriage. In the current “my side vs. yours” political climate, they can’t find a perfect fit. (And it’s not just young people, either. Currently, more Protestant pastors remain undecided than identify with any of the candidates.)
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can breed a sense of distance and apathy. An “IDK” attitude almost waves a white flag toward the political process, defining us by what we’re against rather than engaging the issues we’re for. For any of us watching a candidate we oppose rise in popularity—be it Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or anyone else—our instinct may be to give up, declare America doomed, and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
But throughout Scripture, we see that God cares not only about eternal justice, but just rule in the here-and-now as well. Our earthly authority matters to him, so God calls Christians to be involved in the political communities they find themselves in. Even though it’s tempting to join the chorus of cynics and critics, it takes participation to impact, redeem, and renew the structures around us for his glory.
One of my colleagues at the Center for Public Justice, CEO Stephanie Summers, described citizenship as our common calling:
For many Christians, our citizenship can best be characterized by the hope that it is somebody else’s job, (yet) our citizenship responsibilities are a direct response to the command to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God as articulated in Micah 6:8 and throughout Scripture.
… God invites us as citizens to examine our political communities with a critical, but hopeful vision. We must work together to animate, scrutinize, advance, and, when needed, correct through reform our political communities.
God invites us to promote public laws that recognize and protect human responsibilities that are independent and distinct from government. Our vision should be that government makes room for the full breadth of culture to unfurl, so that families, churches, businesses, schools, voluntary associations, and the like develop and fulfill their own God-given responsibilities.
Even significant concerns about the political process and the candidates themselves do not give us a pass on engaging our system. There is great good that comes from participating in the political community— at its best, it’s the channel by which social ills are confronted, unjust laws are overturned, and as Michael Wear wrote last year, culture is made.
With this in mind, I have a few suggestions for navigating the election season in ways that seek to uphold and respond to God’s invitation to us as citizens:
1. Research the candidates and party platforms
Many of us enter this process already jaded. And for good reason: much of the rhetoric on the debate stages has been hard to digest. But the debates can’t be the end of it. It’s important to “do your homework” on the candidates beyond their reputations and sound bites. Research their policy positions and voting records, and pay attention to their campaign rhetoric and promises. Do this knowing that you won’t walk away with absolute clarity. It’s unrealistic to expect to find the “perfect” candidate or party, but is there a platform that, despite imperfections, you believe in enough that you can participate in? That has potential for renewal and restoration?
2. Talk with friends and family, including those you disagree with
We all know people who are staunch Republicans or die-hard Democrats. Ask them how they arrived where they are, what shaped their decisions, and what issues are important to them… and listen to what they have to say.
I’ve found that my own views continue to be shaped and refined through these kinds of conversations, where I aim to see what more passionate supporters see in their candidate or party of choice.
3. Join a political party
If you feel politically homeless, this seems like a silly suggestion. Many of us are already wary of institutions, especially political ones. But in a Comment Magazinearticle, Gideon Strauss calls young, justice-minded citizens to do the unimaginable: join a political party. He writes, “Joining a political party is the means by which a raw passion for justice gets tempered into a real instrument for long-term political faithfulness.”
Strauss recognizes that you will not wholeheartedly agree with everything a party, or its candidate, stands for. Out of these points of tension, though, we find ourselves motivated to push for improvement. “The more deeply you care about justice, the more thoroughly your party will break your heart,” he wrote. “Some days you will agree enthusiastically with your supposed partisan opponents, and be deeply disappointed by the official voices of your own party.” Through joining a party, we join a political community larger than ourselves and larger than the individual issues we care about. This is an important part of fulfilling God’s call to be citizens that uphold public justice.
Come Election Day, you should be informed and ready to vote. In a recent article, Stephanie Summers wrote, “As Christians who understand our role as citizens, we must not abdicate our calling to serve God and our neighbors by not voting, or by voting uninformed.”
The ability to vote is something that should not be taken lightly. It’s an opportunity to elect fellow citizens to office who will promote justice in the public square. “We must vote, knowing that the conditions in which we do so are far from the way they are supposed to be. This experience can hopefully inspire us to work to change the conditions themselves,” Summers writes.
If you profess to care about justice, you cannot abdicate this role. To do so would be irresponsible.
Being politically homeless is not a bad thing, but it’s also not an excuse for checking out of politics forever. In 2016, pray for God’s wisdom and discernment. Research, listen, discuss, and participate in political life. I have hope that as we come to more fully understand what God calls us to as citizens in a political community, we will move from “IDK” to a position of knowledge and conviction.
Katie Thompson is the editor of Shared Justice, an online publication for millennials published by the Center for Public Justice. She is a co-author of Unleashing Opportunity: Why Escaping Poverty Requires a Shared Vision of Justice. A New Jersey native, Thompson now lives in Washington DC.