It feels like we’re standing on the shoreline, watching a storm building in the west. Another general election is on the horizon, the rhetoric is heating up, and accusations are beginning to fall like thunderbolts on the talk shows and faux news channels.
And this is just the beginning. It’s going to get worse. The candidates are trading barbs now, but they’ll be getting out their swords soon. Oh, for the days when the worst thing a candidate called his opponent was “egghead.” (Adlai Stevenson took it as a complement.)
The political culture is degraded. Politicians are degrading. Everyone deplores the hostility and contempt in Washington, but the situation doesn’t get any better. In fact, it has gotten much worse. Courtesy and the respectful exchange of ideas has all but disappeared.
Where is the eye of the storm? It’s no longer in the Capitol. It’s on social media, where a nightmarish dust storm of accusations, fabrications, and malicious slander is constantly swirling.
Last year Shanto Iyengar, a political scientist at Stanford University, published a paper on the polarization of the American electorate. His findings suggest that there is more political animus in this country than there is racial animus, a conclusion drawn by other researchers as well. In the light of Ferguson and Baltimore, that’s saying a lot.
Can anyone change the climate of the political sphere? Politicians could, but they won’t. They talk about cooperation but rely on negative campaigning and partisan news media, and in so doing destroy the very possibility of cooperation. The negative campaign ad is a sharp and effective weapon, and no one wants to be the first to lay down his or her sword.
The partisan news shows, both on the left and on the right, could change the climate, but they won’t. Their ratings, not to mention their earnings, are directly linked to the practice of demonizing their political opponents. The louder they shout, the higher their ratings.
Well, if the politicians won’t change the political climate of hostility and partisanship, and neither will the pundits, who does that leave? It leaves you and me. It’s up to us. But we’re not doing a very good job.
According to Stanford News, in issues like race and gender, “attitudes and behavior are constrained by social norms of civility and tolerance,” but “there are no similar pressures to temper disapproval of political opponents. People feel free to say bad things about their political opponents.” And they say them from the relative safety of their computer and their smart phone.
Of course, the person who professes to follow Jesus will not feel free to say bad things about others. Or will he? Unfortunately, he seems all too free, in spite of Jesus’s strong warnings to do no such thing: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Only the most willfully ignorant enthusiast dares to say there are no brothers on the other side of the political fence. And yes, it still counts if you say it online rather than face to face.
Someone may counter, “Yes, but issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, African-American relations with the police, and first amendment rights are too important for us to remain silent.” I agree completely. But those of us who speak as followers of Christ had better do so as he and his apostles instructed us: with gentleness and without malice. We need peacemakers who sow their ideas in peace and water them with rational arguments, not with insults and affronts.
Where are the peacemakers whom Jesus blessed? One thing is for sure: they’re are not on Facebook calling their opponent “Raca” (Aramaic for “Numbskull”) or their political rival “Fool.” Yes, it’s time for Jesus’s people to stand up and speak the truth, but they must do it in peace. If they can’t, then they should sit down and be quiet—and pray.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/1/2015