Arthur C. Brooks wrote a recent New York Times op-ed piece that is well worth your time to read. In his article “Our Culture of Contempt” he captured the essence of the division and fighting in America. Allow me to note some of his high points and offer my own conclusion.
No one would argue that we are a divided country. (It’s one of the few things we don’t disagree on.) Research is showing that we have not been this politically polarized since the Civil War. Even as families divided over the issue of slavery in the 19th century, families today are divided over whether Trump is a great leader or a buffoon. Or the issue of guns … or immigration … or whatever Republicans and Democrats will be haggling over next week.
Let me ask you a question: what drives your ideology or political views? The driving force behind your beliefs is likely love: love for God, love for others, and maybe a love for justice. Guess what? Your opponents on the other side could say the same thing. They hold their opposing views because of their love for God, love for others, and love for justice!
A problem grows out of this. If you are opposed to my love-based views, then you must be motivated by hate. As Brooks points out, that attitude moves us way beyond a lack of civility. We view the other side with contempt. Mean, nasty, ugly contempt.
How can we ever have a constructive conversation when we’re fueled by contempt? And if the other side carries an equal amount of contempt for us, well, we come to more than a stalemate; we eventually come to blows.
Brooks offers some practical ways to move forward.
- Stop listening to the “rhetorical dope peddlers.” Hearing the news is one thing; hearing it spun by someone who’s paid to be controversial or keep the waters of contempt stirred is quite another.
- Commit to never treat others with contempt (even if we think they deserve it.) This is a good point from Brooks, but I’m grieved over the many friends who don’t think this applies to them. I have too many social media friends who decry the contemptuous attitude of “the other side,” WHILE REMAINING BLIND TO THEIR OWN CONTEMPT.”
- If you’ve been contemptuous in the past, make amends.
- When people treat you with contempt, don’t respond in kind. Rather “respond with warmheatedness and good humor.”
This is where the church in America can rise up and have a great influence on our culture.
Believers can have convictions and take a stand, but we must, first of all, be doubly-sure our convictions are grounded in Scripture. But how we express those convictions can turn the tide in our political landscape.
You say your ideology is grounded in love for God and love for others? Great. Make sure that includes love for those on the other side.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28).
The early church did not turn the Roman Empire upside-down by its theology. The Christians lived their theology. The gospel infused their lives. Unbelievers saw firsthand the love of God because they saw His love in how the early Christians lived and responded to opposition.
Christians, we will never make a difference if we speak disparagingly of the other side. Even when we make a joke and then excuse it by saying “I was only kidding,” we’ve blown any chance of having a positive impact. We Christians are too much like the world when it comes to expressing our political views. We make ourselves feel better by joining with like-minded people and ranting against our opponents. But in the end, all we’ve done is rant.
When will those of us in the church stop ranting and start listening? When will we set aside our political slogans and memes and talk with the other side with civility and … uh-oh, love?
- “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (Jas. 1:19-20).
- “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:1-2).
What can you do to reflect Christ in our national political debate?
- When others start slinging mud, don’t join in. It takes a lot of the fun out of throwing mud if no one participates.
- When you’re tempted to “go off” on the idiocy of someone on the other side, pray instead. Pray for your own attitude. Pray for the person. Seriously. Pray.
- Listen. Don’t worry; they won’t likely convert you. But learn to hear what motivates their hearts, and in the process, you earn the right to be heard.
- Speak about what you’re for instead of just blustering about what you’re against.
- Bathe everything—your words, your attitude, your prayers for the other person—with love. Let your love for Christ be seen in your love for the other side.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
Frankly, to do anything less than what is called for in the passages I’ve mentioned is to be outside the will of God. And no political tirade or dig at the other side is worth that.
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