I, as you, have seen many a friend disengage from social media due to its hostile political climate. Unfortunately, the climate seems persistent on its global warming. Even if one were to free themselves from the social media mire, the bitterness has contaminated the drinking water: radio, tv, newspapers, entertainment, social gatherings, and the like. The canyon dividing this nation is grand and demands all of its people’s capitulation. Society assumes you to be on one side or the other – no matter which it is, you’re on the wrong side according to the other half.
The unfortunate truth is that it has been this way for awhile. We have lost the ability to converse and to disagree. People are less likely to marry across political lines than they are religious lines. We live like political actions, parties, candidates, and movements are salvation (or damnation) issues. Politics is our greatest hope and judgement. Politics has become our god, our golden calves. There is one for the Right and one for the Left. Each calls us to slaughter and attack the other. The annoying thing is that we are well aware of the absurdity of our situation, but we rile ourselves up anyway. We label label-makers, intolerate people challenging our tolerant opinion, and judge those who we assume judge us.
Politics has always been downstream from culture. The river does not flow from whom we put into office. The current division was not created by Trump and it was not created by Obama. Political polarization is society’s bane. Politics has become the final pantheon to which we have sold our souls. The secular and the religious both bend its knees to it. As a Christian, I feel it is necessary to drive this home for the Church. We blend our faith with our patriotism. We confuse America with the Church. I worry that we have lost our calling. Can we discuss what we should do as Christians in a republic? Yes. Can we discuss how the Church should engage in politics? Absolutely. Can we confuse our American citizenship with our Gospel? No.
The New Testament was written to Christians who were under an oppressive regime (actually, for the most part, the Bible is for an oppressed people) and not to a prosperous “Christian” nation with even close to the freedom we have. From Jesus’ own mouth, He made it clear that His “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Peter reminds us that we are “sojourners and exiles” in this world and, as such, we have to keep our “conduct among the Gentiles honorable” and “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” while we do good (you should read all of 1 Peter 2:11-16). The Apostle Paul will instruct Timothy to, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1-2, emphasis mine). To the Philippians, a people proud of their Roman citizenship, Paul will say, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Again, he will say, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). “Quiet” (ēremos) does not mean silent, but still. We should be calm when chaos is the norm.
Unfortunately, the Church is not quiet or peaceful. It is loud and inciting. It stirs up controversies and flames quarrels. For so long, the Church was the loudest voice in politics. Today, the Church has lost much of that influence. Church in America was alway been associated with government. As that has shifted, the Church has frantically attempted to maintain control. (The Left is currently experiencing the same thing.) We have become distracted and have tried to build our own Kingdom of God with Rome’s tactics. We do it all in the name of Truth…ignoring the Truth the above Scriptures call us to walk in. In confusing politics with our religion, we have disenfranchised all those of differing political opinions. The gates of Heaven have been closed to those who might have otherwise entered. We have traded in the Gospel of Jesus for the Gospel of Rome. And, to be clear, this is true for the Right as it is for the Left. There is no one to blame.
Information and Isolation
In our Information Age, we have become ignorant of the other sides. We tailor our media (and our friends) to fit the customized diet that suits us. I recall people saying during the election that they didn’t know anyone voting for Trump. And that’s the problem. We don’t know, really know, people who disagree with us. It use to be that if you asked a Republican if they knew a Democrat, they might say, “Yea. Joe that lives just down street is one. His kids and our’s play together and he grills a mean steak.” Even if we do happen to hang out with someone of differing political persuasion occasionally, politics are probably going to be avoided. Knowing less about people makes it easier to run them over.
Back in the day, to voice our opinions, we had to do it in the presence of people, face-to-face. Opinions were valuable and worthy of being shared. Today, opinions are mass produced. Anyone at anytime for any reason can and will dish out their Facebook status (or blog post) without any concern for how other people may respond. They simply post and wait for the likes. If there be resistance, just ignore or unfriend. Mass information, a deluge of social connections, and global transportation have allowed us not to learn more but to isolate more. Neighborhoods, cities, and entire regions have now become harbors for particular ideals. Drop a Trump supporter in Portland and tell me they will be welcomed. Drop a Hillary supporter in Maricopa County and tell me they’ll feel right at home.
Jargon and emotion have replaced reason and dialogue. Politicians know this and have used it against us. The more a party can get people to emote in unison, the more likely they are to win. The side effect is that we have to have a scapegoat for the mob. We know we “know” people on social media that disagree with us, yet we will post defamatory and derogatory comments about the stupidity of Liberals and the arrogance of Conservatives. Somehow we have trained ourselves to integrate slander and avoidance. We lay waste to whole groups of people, many of whom are in our Friends list, without an ounce of concern. Perhaps we have convinced ourselves that they deserve it – we then become the intolerant and the judgmental.
Meanwhile, both sides miss the possible truths the other holds. Both sides have very legitimate concerns, both sides have very worthwhile intentions, and both sides have very honest perspectives. Yet, it is “safer” to just rally in our herds. We would rather talk about them than with them. The chasm that segregates us we would rather accept as reality than do the hard labor of filling in. We all talk of love and tolerance or of truth and responsibility. Let’s do it then. Let’s fight for love and tolerance even when it hurts. Let’s take responsibility for discussing truth together even when we disagree.
Blessed are the peacemakers
What I am not saying is that you can’t have an opinion. Engage with topics, discuss current events, take your stands, and voice your opinion. But an opinion is only valuable when it engages others with a differing opinion. Your opinion only matters when it can change something. Therefore, you must have others around you, in your life, that you disagree with. The key is that you also have to listen to what they have to say. It’s time, America, to become friends with those you think are wrong and grill some steaks together. It’s past time to start the hard work of wrenching back together the ideological continents drifting apart. We have to get this right before we tear each other apart. This is America’s greatest threat.
The hatred has gone on long enough. Hate is easy. Love is laborious. It makes you sweat. It forces you into hard, awkward conversations. It makes you stop yelling and start listening. Love reminds us that people matter more than politics. At the end of the day, no matter how you or I voted, something matters more than that. The walls that divide people, Christ came to tear down (Ephesians 2:14). That is, I believe, a calling for the Christian today. The call of a Christian is that of mediation and reconciliation. It is an insurgency of peace. That is what the Church should be known for. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
1 Peter 2:11-16
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.