Donald Trump hasn’t polarized the country. He, and his election, just exposed the level of polarization which was already there.
So when the talking heads say “America’s divided!” we say “Well, duh, we’ve known that for years.” What we didn’t know was how deep the division was, how wide a chasm it’s placed between us and folks we thought we were tight with, and to what lengths fellow citizens and believers from both sides might go when expressing their positions and, for better or worse, their
Now we know. We know because we’ve spent a week reading Facebook posts that have written us off no matter how we voted or refused to vote, and because protests have jumped from streets to government buildings to Broadway theaters, and because people are now scared to say anything, or willing to say anything.
The overhead light in America’s messy garage got switched to full brightness, and we’re taken aback. We knew it was somewhat untidy in there. We didn’t know that “untidy” had morphed to “junky.”
It’s a long division we’re facing, a clash of world views with little to no consensus as to what constitutes fair play when we promote and defend them.
My wife and I have been hashing this out all week, and here are four points we feel God’s laid on us.
1. Criticize without Obsessing
When I heard about VP elect Pence getting an uninvited lecture during a Broadway showing of the musical Hamilton, I steamed. I’ve got zero respect for the tactic of hijacking public events, whether they’re theater performances, football games, or the Academy Awards, just because someone wants to make a statement. You can do that on your own time; you’ve no right to ambush people, much less impose the ambush on unsuspecting audiences who came for entertainment, not pontification.
I think I’m right. I also think I spent way too much time thinking about it this morning. There’s no reason I can’t just express my criticism when and where appropriate, state my case, then move on.
There’s a danger of getting addicted to hunting down, then obsessing over, the faults of people we disagree with. For sure, I think we should position ourselves, and lately I’ve felt more and more of the need to state clearly where I stand in the interest of honesty and fairness. I assume you feel the same need, so if a President, President Elect, or other public figure makes statements you object to, please do, for all our sake, contribute your criticism. The rest of us can consider it, hopefully learn from it, maybe even act on it.
But let’s avoid the temptation to ruminate endlessly over it. Your life and mine are so much richer when focused on what’s good and true and honorable (Philippians 4:8-9), not denying the existence of the negative, but not becoming captive to
I hope we’ll speak our minds, expressing our criticisms plainly and even robustly, following them up with action as needed. (In the right place, at the right time, with the right spirit) We can do all this without giving what we object to more attention than it deserves. Our lives are so brief, and so vital, that they’ve just got to be about more than whatever we’re against.
2. Lose the Morally Superior Attitude
Decades ago, Dr. Eric Berne developed the idea of psychological “games” we play, one of those games being “Ain’t it Awful?” We play it when we whip each other into a frenzy talking about the latest felony committed by the Party or President we dislike. In the midst of talking endlessly about that party or person’s faults, we can inadvertently pat ourselves on the backs saying, in essence, “Ain’t it awful? And ain’t it great that we’re not like that?”
There are religious Pharisees and there are social Pharisees, but wherever you’ve got people assuming moral superiority over others, you’ve got Pharisees, no matter the context. And was there anyone Jesus came down on harder than them? (Matthew 23)
That’s where I’ve got to watch myself. When I see footage of anti-Trump protests turning violent, I’m prone to pat my conservative Republican back while saying, “Aren’t they awful? And isn’t it great that Conservatives don’t behave that way?”
Yet three days ago I read a Facebook thread about anti-Trump protesters blocking traffic, which included a video clip of a car running one of them over. The woman was injured, seriously I assume, yet anti-liberal comment after anti-liberal comment made light of it, laughing about damage down to someone who’s actions they disliked. I posted an objection; others shot me down, saying the incident was humorous, she got what she deserved, and more of them should get more of
So much for conservative superiority.
Now, let’s not pretend some ideas aren’t superior to others. Certain ideas about doctrine, the role of government, or national defense, are good; others aren’t. But people? That’s another matter. Whatever your political position, if you think it makes you better than others, you’re wrong. Presuming moral superiority puts you in danger, because you cannot fully take hold of Him if you see the sin in others as being worse than your own.
Remember, the sick don’t need a doctor. (Matthew 9:12) God forbid any of us forget the sickness He came to cure.
3. Other People Think, Too
I make no apologies for having opinions. But I owe plenty of apologies when I forget that the people I disagree with probably reached their positions just like
They reviewed the facts, analyzed the issues, then came to a conclusion. I may not like their conclusion, but I owe them the respect of presuming, until proven otherwise, that they reached it by thinking things through, then deciding where they stood.
You and I aren’t wrong in disagreeing with each other. But we’re awfully wrong if we think we can read each other’s minds. None of us is entitled to say, “I know not only what you believe, but why you believe it. You’re a racist; that’s why you voted for Him. You’re a bleeding heart; that’s why you voted for Her. You’re a flake; that’s why you voted for No One.”
If we’re to ever move ahead, we’ve got to admit that other people have brains that work every bit as well as our own. They use them as we do, and whether it’s convenient to admit it or not, plenty of them also exercise integrity when doing so.
To assume the ability to judge a fellow citizen’s motive or character by the way she or he voted is to put yourself in danger of judgment ( Matthew 7:1-5) That’s a danger no one, I hope, will be foolish enough to trifle with.
4. Pray Like it Works
We’re commanded to pray for those in authority (I Timothy 2:1-2) and when we pray within God’s will, we can be confident of the results (I John 5:14-15) knowing that our effectual, fervent requests will be heard. (James 5:16)
Let’s treat those scriptures less like poetry and more like a job description. For myself, I know I can gauge the presence or lack or my own integrity, at least in part, by the effort I do or don’t put into praying for the people leading this nation.
For President-elect Trump, in particular, I have a mandate to pray that God will increase his wisdom (James 1:5) continue the good work He is reported to have begun in him (Philippians 1:6) and make his life abound in good works, general character, and Christ-likeness. (Philippians 1:9-11)
On that point we can, despite party loyalties, agree. We’ll all be better off if the man in the Oval Office is guided by the Spirit and the Word, enriched by surrounding himself with godly advisers, and fashioned more and more into the spiritually strong and morally fit leader we need him to be.
Our national division is sure to be long and emotionally draining. In light of that, I want to take the Salt and Light role with all due seriousness. I hope we all do, and that, as we do, we’ll commit ourselves to being people of the solution rather than the problem.