Political pundits say that the first really obvious affect of popularity was the Kennedy-Nixon debates. On September 26, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon participated in the first televised presidential debates in American history. Suddenly election strategy changed. A carefully manufactured public image and media exposure became essentials for every candidate.
Kennedy had only a single and unexceptional term as a Senator on his resume. Nixon had eight years as vice-president, following a career in the Senate in which his domestic and foreign experience trumped anything Kennedy had. He was a great opponent of Communism in a time when that really mattered, and even helped uncover the alleged traitor Alger Hiss. By the summer of 1960, Nixon had gained a lead in the polls. Then he landed in the hospital with an infection in August and came out pale and 20 pounds underweight. And so on debate day, a young, bronzed Kennedy confronted a gray Nixon, who was still running a low fever from the tag end of the flu as well. He had just come off an exhausting campaign trail while Kennedy holed up in the hotel the whole weekend resting.
After the first of four debates, the pundits scored their politics even, or Nixon slightly ahead. On Election Day, though, Kennedy won and exit polls showed that politics is not what won the election. Kennedy was more telegenic. Over half the voters said the two disparate images during the debate had influenced their vote. Historians say this was the first time popularity struck a blow in politics. They are wrong about that.
After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel, 2 Sam 15:1-6.
Absalom made everyone feel “liked” and that “stole their hearts.” But Absalom wasn’t even the first. In Judges 9:3 the people of Israel had “hearts inclined to follow Abimelech.” Both of these men were wrong for God’s people and were eventually killed, but that didn’t stop the people from falling prey to what was “popular.”
Do you think that hasn’t happened to you? Why do you wear what you wear? Why do you watch the television shows you watch? Why do you go to the restaurants you do? Whatever is popular at the time steals our hearts because we think that by doing the popular thing we will become popular. The problem comes when that affects us spiritually. If I am wearing clothing I shouldn’t because everyone else is, I need a stronger character. If I am watching inappropriate entertainment, I need to remember who I claim to follow.
The people of Israel were taken in by what was popular over and over again. Ezekiel tells us “their hearts went after their idols” and “covetousness,” 20:16; 33:31. Jeremiah talks about them “going after the imagination of their hearts,” 9:14; 13:10. And why did they do those things? Not only because they were the popular things to do, but because falling in with the crowd made them popular too. Simply put, you can’t be different and popular in the world at the same time.
What is your heart going after? If it’s popularity and wanting to be “liked,” then you are prey to popular evils just like 99% of the rest of the world. God calls us to be different. A Christian doesn’t need to be “liked” on Facebook or anywhere else as long as God “likes” him.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ, Gal 1:10.