In her new book, Politics for People Who Hate Politics, political commentator and former congressional candidate Denise Gitsham invites believers to faithfully represent God’s love in one of society’s most divisive arenas.
Having built her career in politics, Gitsham knows why many believers hate the subject — she’s experienced some of the worst it has to offer.
“I experienced what it was like to have to try to live up to the standard God calls us to in the political arena as a candidate — and it was really, really hard,” Gitsham confided in an interview with the Daily Citizen. “People are flinging rocks at you and taking you out and verbally accosting you constantly — even people that are supposedly your friends.”
But, Gitsham freely admits, she used to be part of the problem.
“I think I grew up [having] erected a false sacred/secular divide in my life where there was political Denise and there was Christian Denise. Christian Denise showed up when she was in the church parking lot and put on a smile said, ‘God bless you.’ But political Denise was sharp elbows, willing to do whatever it took to win. There was such a lack of integrity between who I was on Sunday and [who I was] every day in the workplace that it started to make me sick.”
God’s work in Gitsham’s heart, and mentors like Senator Tim Scott, changed the way she thought about politics. Now, she treats her career like the mission field.
Politics for People Who Hate Politics gives believers practical advice for engaging politically by identifying common traps and applying biblical principles in context. But, says Gitsham, the books’ principles apply to more than just politics.
“It’s just about being a better disciple of Jesus. You can apply these principles to any arena.”
The following is an edited version of the Daily Citizen’s conversation with Gitsham.
Daily Citizen: Tell us about your background and what inspired you to write Politics for People Who Hate Politics.
Gitsham: I’m a daughter of immigrants — my mom fled communist China, and my grandfather fought for democratic principles as a two-star general under Chiang Kai Shek. My dad is from Canada. So I think I have a unique appreciation for America from an outsider’s perspective.
Having spent some time in China as a missionary, I experienced firsthand the blessing our freedoms are. I realized that those freedoms are like Ronald Reagan said — we have to fight for them in every generation. I was always public service minded because I wanted to help preserve those freedoms for generations to come.
And having been on all sides of politics — from the campaign side, to working in the government at the White House at the Department of Justice and the Bush administration, and then in the legislative branch in the US Senate, and then running for Congress myself in 2016 in San Diego— I’ve seen everything from every perspective.
Now, I’m a political commentator on the news, and I’m usually sparring with as democrats a Republican strategist. I feel like everything God has taught me about seeing all sides of an issue has helped focus me not so much on what I’m going to say that’s witty, or clever or smart, but how I can bring hope and God’s love into any political conversation, discourse or campaign I’m involved in.
Daily Citizen: In the book, you Christian’s are responding poorly to mud-slinging politics. When did you start to notice that happening?
Gitsham: Well, I have been part of the problem now, I’d like to be about the solution [laughs]. My book is like one big amalgamation of all the things that I’ve done — not even all, a fraction of the things I’ve done wrong in my life.
Over the course of my career in politics, I was divisive as they come. Even though I had a heart after God, I would justify my means based on the ends.
Instead of thinking about the character that God wanted me to operate in, I was looking at the outcome and saying, “I can do whatever it takes,” giving myself a carte blanche to act like everybody else in the arena.
Daily Citizen: Can you explain how believers can take on false political identities, and how we know if it’s happened to us?
Gitsham: It’s really a motivation of your heart. No Christian comes out saying, “I love the GOP or the Democratic Party more than I love Jesus.” That’s not a conscious decision we make.
Satan is much cleverer than that. If he can divert us from our true identity in Christ by striking fear into our hearts about our future, it’s means we are lacking in faith in a God on whom the government is seated.
There is no authority in power that God has not put there. If we trust that everything is part of God’s plan, whether we like it or not, we can rest assured knowing that whoever is in charge, Jesus is ultimately the King.
Daily Citizen: Why should Christians get engaged in politics?
Gitsham: Being disengaged doesn’t mean politics won’t affect you — all it does is take your voice out of the equation. That’s the case for engagement — it’s about stewardship of the blessings that God has given us. It’s the same reason a preacher would talk how we steward our finances. We are to steward the blessing God has given us of living in this country, by shaping the future for ourselves and our children.
Daily Citizen: What practical steps could readers take to get politically engaged today?
Gitsham: I think if you’re not praying for your country, you’re not going to have any authority over a situation. It begins with prayer and asking God where He can use your voice, asking, “Where should I be? What do you want me to do in this realm of politics? How can I be a good steward?”
Sometimes it’s something basic, like helping out on a voter registration drive. Maybe getting involved in your local parent-teacher association — that’s one of the most political entities out there. Maybe it’s going to a town hall for a politician to get educated [on the issues]. It doesn’t require you run for office [or serve in the government]. That’s like what crazy people like me do [laughs] — that’s not everyone’s calling.
But it is all of our callings to have a voice and be leaders in the political realm as believers, because we are empowered to bring the truth to light.