Reflections On 'Them'
Is it just me, or do things seem a bit off these past few years? Maybe it’s been longer than just a few years. Rifts are growing within this great Union. The Left and the Right are both becoming more polar and separated by ideology. Everyone is mad at the other side, and often anger turns against the people within their same side. Cheap shots are taken on Twitter, words like fascist and Nazi are overused, and cable news hosts always find something to make their base mad. What’s going on?
The Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, recently wrote a book called Them: Why we Hate Each Other – And how to Heal. If I could get every American to read this book, I would. Senator Sasse intends to instruct us on how to return to civility and honor in our political discourse. It’s about reconciliation with those who don’t think the same things we do. As Christians, we should heed the words Senator Sasse offers our nation. While this book was not written specifically for the Church, I believe much of it applies to how Christians are called to engage the world. Based on some of the major topics in Them, I will offer a few reflections and scriptures for the Christian living in a nation that is losing the desire to respect one another.
When disrespected, don’t return the favor. If someone attacks your position and goes low, it can be tempting to respond by kicking them back. Many times, it’s the angriest voices that are the easiest to hear, but our command as Christians is to love our enemies, not repay evil for evil, and not avenge ourselves. “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, CSB) One of the only ways we’re going to stop this coarsening of our culture is for people to stop outdoing one another in our incivility. Christians, we should be the ones who stop this cycle. We are called to lead lives marked by grace, so let’s not be easily offended or offensive.
Make a good argument. So, if we’re not going to be angrier, louder, and more disparaging than our opponents, then how do we “win?”: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…” (Philippians 4:5, ESV) Forget about winning. We’re out to convince and persuade. We’re out to proclaim the truth, and we do this by being reasonable. Reasonable in how we use our words; reasonable in how we live our lives. Keep the passion and the fire for the things The Lord has laid on your heart, provided they line up with His Word, but craft robust arguments instead of crass and snarky insults.
Choose your authorities wisely. We look for truth with many people we shouldn’t. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false profits have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1, CSB) Comedians, politicians, news anchors, and others who are on our political “side” are in no short supply. Authorities and commentators can help inform us about the issues, but we ought to make sure we filter what they say against what Jesus says in the scriptures. Especially be wary of those who tap into anger, those who take intellectual shortcuts, or those who tell you that those who disagree with you are the enemy. None of those authorities will help you love God and love people any better.
Be careful with social media. It can be an effective platform, and for better or worse, it is where many discussions take place. But social media creates distance between you and those you interact with, and it makes it easier to say careless words – words that would not come so naturally if you had to face the person. “There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, CSB) More than that, social media can isolate you from the community The Lord has placed you within. When this happens, you’ll start to identify more with a group or a movement than actual people. You find others who think like you and “like” the edgy things you say, but it cuts you off from the body of believers who can call out your sin, hold you accountable, encourage you to grow in the gospel, and just enjoy the everyday moments of life. Don’t give up on your community for shallow internet pen pals. “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” (Proverbs 27:10, ESV)
Remember who the real enemy is. Satan’s influence is strong, and he’ll do whatever he can to distort, disable, and destroy our fellow image bearers of the living God. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV) People that disagree with us, or even actively oppose the gospel, are captives, prisoners of war. We’re ultimately fighting to free unbelievers from the snares of the devil, and fellow believers we disagree with are on our side in a way far more powerful than any political ally. C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” (P. 46) The implication is that everyone you know and will ever meet is going to live forever somewhere: whether in heaven or in hell. Let’s pour into and minister to people like we really believe this to be true.
I recognize that within and outside the church, there is disagreement on many topics, and we invest much time and energy in how we ought to think and address these issues. While our passion and zeal for these things are admirable, don’t let that lead you to act in a way unworthy of Christ. Remember that the most important aim for the Christian is to make disciples of all peoples, and we can’t do that if we’re fighting Them.