What are you bringing to the political fire?
By Ben Cachiaras
Our nation is polarized politically. It seems everyone is politicked off. The flames of strife, disagreement, and contentiousness are burning everywhere, and each of us has a choice in how we respond.
In one hand you hold a can of gasoline.It’s obvious what happens when you pour gas on a fire. The fire explodes, destruction follows, people are hurt.
In your other hand is a bucket filled with water. Pour the water on a flame and you hear that defusing sound: tsssss. The bucket contains the Spirit’s calming waters of peace, the drizzle of gentleness, the dousing effects of kindness.
When it comes to the fires of political argument—where there is already more heat than light, where it’s already burning out of control, where Facebook threads are aflame with angry, polarized arguing—the question is this: What are you going to pour onto the fire? You make this choice every day.
I’d like to suggest that pouring gasoline on the fire is a bad idea and we should stop it. Not only because it creates a bigger fire and hurts people, and not only because it causes stress, anxiety, and aggravation for you, and not only because it never advances the conversation or resolves disagreements. The main reason we should stop pouring gas on political fires is because it hurts the church and melts our ability to do our mission. And this grieves and frustrates our Lord. (For more on this issue, see the sidebar, “Why Are We Shooting at Each Other?”)
The water bucket contains three beautiful things: civility, humility, and unity.We need all three tocreate a separation of church and hate.
When we behave with civility, we show respect and regard for others—especially those with whom we disagree. But most people today seem unable to tolerate anyone whose views diverge from their own. Followers in the way of Jesus should lead in demonstrating civility, which is built upon the notion that every human has dignity and worth as a creation of God. Without this, we treat people as opponents and morons. Dallas Willard suggests that contempt is one of the darkest sins. Contempt is when we so disdain someone that we deem them unworthy of respect. Folks, we have a crisis of contempt.
Civility grants the respect that says, “I will acknowledge you,” and it invites respectful dialogue. Civility allows us to disagree without being disagreeable. It doesn’t require us to soften our position, but it does require us to soften our hearts and our tone toward people.
I was reading a Christian’s blog where people entered the discussion in the comment section. Someone stepped over the line. Instead of critiquing the position, he attacked the person. Instead of criticizing the content, he was caustic about another’s character. Instead of saying, “I have a different idea,” he declared, “You’re an idiot.” What ensued was two Christians going at it, slinging mud and zingers. Then came this remark from another reader: “Wow, you Christians are so stupid. I thought your Jesus was better than that.” The part that gutted me was the phrase “your Jesus.” That reader wanted nothing to do with that kind of Jesus. Frankly, neither do I.
If the way you argue drives away the very people Jesus sent us to reach, I don’t care how self-justified you think you are or how convinced you are that you’re the voice of righteousness—you’re doing it wrong. And for Christ’s sake, please stop it.
Let the Spirit filter your words. Jesus’ Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) should apply on the Internet, too. When you’re all heated up and unsure how to act, remember the words of Frederick Buechner (and I’ll paraphrase): “Although kindness is not the same thing as holiness, it’s awfully close.”
It seems everybody believes: (1) my political opinions are based on good intentions and I am loving; (2) my opinions are logical, proven, factual, clear, and obvious; and (3) anyone who disagrees with me is not only wrong, they are stupid.
Jesus humbled himself. True followers will do the same. Of course, you have good reasons for arriving at your opinions. Being humble means holding your views loosely, granting the possibility that others also have reasons for landing where they have. Without humility, we simply can’t imagine anyone’s perspective but our own. We declare, “How can you hold that position or support that candidate and call yourself a Christian?”
With all due respect, as convicted as you may be about your stance, it is ignorant and arrogant to make such proclamations. Humility says, “I do not presume to be the arbiter of all truth or to have cornered the market on intelligence. I realize we all come to our perspectives as a result of a complex array of personal background and experiences.”
Humility remembers we are looking through a glass darkly, and that really smart, godly, devoted Christians don’t agree with us on a whole bunch of issues. Aren’t you glad we are able to learn and grow and to change our minds as we mature? Let’s allow others the opportunity to do that as well . . . and maybe even humble ourselves in case we need to learn something, too.
Here is a key to humility: Listen, don’t label. When I label you, I’m done with you. I don’t have to listen to you anymore. After all, you’re just a liberal. You’re a legalist. You’re a Republican. You’re a Democrat. You’re a Trumpy fundamentalist. You’re Biden-loving, tree-hugging, granola-eating, hemp-wearing wacko. You’re a conservative ignoramus. You see? It’s easy. The quicker I can size you up as one of “those people” the sooner I can be done with you. Labels and name-calling stir the caustic juices of sarcasm and contempt into a froth. Humility calls me to listen, seeking not just to be understood, but to understand.
I’ll never forget the moment in my living room when two unlikely brothers in Christ became friends. One was a black man who grew up in inner-city Baltimore, and the other was a white cop from that same city. Each man had strong opinions about many things. They were used to throwing gasoline on fires. But week by week a relationship developed, and in the safety of my living room they finally heard a different perspective from someone who was not a label, but a friend.
There is a great temptation to discredit anything we haven’t experienced ourselves: “If it doesn’t match my personal experience, it can’t be true,” we say. But these men listened to each other’s story, and they respected one another enough to get past the fear and hurt, the ignorance and stereotypes.
One night the political tension was thick. But they listened humbly. They showed love and respect. They knew a harsh word stirs up anger, but a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Because they remained civil, the Spirit won out. We watched as a black man and a white cop hugged it out in my living room, as if Christ was breaking down the dividing wall of hostility before our tear-filled eyes. Their embrace is a picture of what can happen when we bring the bucket of humility to the fire.
Jesus prayed that we would be one, just as he and the Father are one. Paul reminded us that we will need to strive for it. It’s not going to come easily. But it is important. Some Christians justify their divisive speech by insisting they are standing for truth. It seems to me if your truth doesn’t smell like love, it isn’t God’s truth. Speaking about politics in divisive ways injures the unity of the church, and that hurts the mission of Christ.
We need to quit confusing uniformity or conformity with unity. When we are bound together by our uniformity—politically, socioeconomically, ethnically—the glue in our fellowship may be more about the sameness of our political preferences and cultural homogeneity than about being one in the bond of love. Unity can handle diversity. In fact, if you don’t have some diversity, you don’t have unity at all—you have uniformity.
Among the Twelve Jesus called was a Zealot, who hated the Roman government, and a tax collector who worked for the Roman government. Each despised the other’s ideological position, but they were one because of the common allegiance to Jesus. Can we do the same? Jesus did not allow political dissension to divide his ranks, and we mustn’t either.
We need the integrity and courage to embrace fellow believers on the basis of the slogan, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.” Are we able to recognize political viewpoints as nonessential matters?
Make no mistake—many issues labeled as “political” are extremely important. They matter biblically and impact our ability to administer justice and usher in the kingdom of God. But despite how worthwhile they are to study and work toward, they are nonessentials—meaning they are not “of the essence” of our faith; therefore, they should never be the litmus test of fellowship or the basis of disunity. Even if they are your pet hobby horses. Even if you feel passionately about them.
The church isn’t yours or mine to mess with. Sowing seeds of divisiveness that, in turn, hurt the church is something Jesus takes personally—as Saul learned on the road to Damascus. I wonder if we would create fewer divisions over political rants in the church if Jesus would blind us every so often and ask, “Why are you persecuting me?”
God is not a Republican or Democrat. In fact, if God agrees with your politics most of the time, you’ve probably made a god in your image. Jesus’ people are not held together by political allegiance. We need to make sure we are not driven apart by them either. It’s time we start accepting other Christians who vote differently than we do. The nation is deeply divided over politics. But the church is one.
Jesus didn’t say, “Tolerate your enemies.” He said, “Love your enemies.” It doesn’t mean you’re a doormat. It does mean Jesus’ followers answer hatred with love.
We have been given a job to do. We have a battle to fight, but we won’t find the enemy among other believers who happen to disagree with us on politics. Jesus has made us one. It’s our job to act like it.
Ben Cachiaras serves as lead pastor at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland.