Originally published at Our Words Collaborative
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” -Matthew 11:35 NLT
My husband is a die hard fan of his undergraduate university, a school in our state with a national reputation of excellence in several areas of study and an athletic program that many alums will assure you is cursed. His alma mater’s most loathed rival happens to be the school that graduated one of his best friends, and with great frequency these lifelong buddies engage in a war of words about their respective schools. A good sparring match can erupt on a random Thursday, but the most intense battles occur in conjunction with projected national rankings, ESPN polls, breaking news stories about various university scandals, and of course, games between the two teams in pretty much any sport. There is bashing and shaming. There is ridicule and rage. There is boasting and berating. It is ugly and unbecoming–and it all takes place on Facebook.
Social media, the great bridge that connects the masses, the virtual meeting place and town crier of our generation, has become both a magnifying glass and a hiding place for people the world over. Unfortunately it is our worst behaviors that get magnified as we retreat into the perceived faceless safety of our phones and laptops. Delve into the comment section of a Facebook status or a blog post, examine a Twitter feed, scroll through the captions and hashtags on Instagram, and you will find people at their nastiest and most bitter, wearing the mask of a crusader whose self-proclaimed job it is to tell others they are doing it wrong and make sure they know how to do it right. And if social media is a magnifying glass, our current election season has been the Hubble space telescope. Discussions, even ordinary disagreements and differences of opinion, have erupted into huge, monstrous divisions. Where Bruce Banner was just standing now looms an angry Hulk who will not think twice about punching you right in your theoretical face with the click of the publish button. I have watched damages unfold with great unease in these months leading up to this fateful Tuesday, much like I watch my husband poke a proverbial stick at his friend over a basketball recruit or bad football officiating, but there is one important difference in the two: my husband and his friend are kidding. Most of the rest of us who have lashed out, or have lashed back out at our attackers over where we stand or do not stand in these trying times, were not.
I was raised in a church where Christian and Republican were synonymous. Only “liberal denominations” voted Democrat, and they obviously weren’t real Christians, or so said the leaders of the church we attended. I learned early on not to question what to me were obvious discrepancies between the Bible and the behaviors of Republicans, politicians and constituents alike, and heaven forbid you express an opinion that was in any way different from The Truth According to My Pastor (who also happened to be my step-grandfather). I spent years learning between home and church that it was okay to hit your wife if she disagreed with you; to smoke on the front steps before going into the sanctuary on Sunday morning; to sleep with the deacon’s wife and then divorce the mother of your children to marry her; to speak negatively about poor people, gays, Hispanics, and people who missed church; and to openly criticize and degrade any lifestyle, music style, worship format, or political stance that was “wrong.” If a church member stepped out of line, someone corrected him or her quickly, sometimes even from the pulpit, but mostly to groups of other people who spoke of the wrongdoer in barely hushed tones in Sunday School or in the ladies room before the service. I hardly ever saw anyone who was the topic of such “concern” speak up in self defense, and this, more than the correction itself, made a deep impression on me. I couldn’t deal with the duplicity anymore, and no one wanted to hear my “radically liberal” opinions about how we are supposed to treat each other, and so I left the church for well over a decade.
The pastor of the church I eventually returned to, and where I still attend, welcomes questions from his very large congregation, and I’m sure he gets them every day. If he is angered by the opinions of others it does not show up in his sermons on Sunday mornings. He has clear, well defined beliefs about the ways of the church and the world, and about Jesus’s expectations of us in both, and he backs them well with a deep knowledge of scripture. Even in moments when I’ve felt deeply convicted about an issue he’s addressing, I have never left a service feeling like I couldn’t sit down across from him and express a different viewpoint–dare I say, to disagree with him. This, I believe, is how it has to work in order for recovering church kids like me, as well as the billions of unchurched and marginalized and disenfranchised people in the world, to truly enter into a relationship with a church, with the Almighty, and with Jesus. And while I’m thankful to learn from a pastor who gets this, he seems to be in the minority as the greater Christian community goes. I certainly don’t hear church leaders and congregants gossiping about other members’ flaws and inadequacies in the ladies room anymore, but I’d almost prefer that over the routes Christians take to correct and educate each other both politically and spiritually these days.
The last few months have been hard, haven’t they? Look around the conference table at work, glance at your social media feed, drive through your neighborhood, and you cannot miss the deep, jagged lines that have been drawn between us all. My own feeds have featured name-calling from actual Christian family members on more than one occasion, and I’ve seen some Twitter and Instagram accounts evolve (devolve?) into outright thinly veiled attacks on people who haven’t been “Jesus-ing” correctly or taking the “correct” Christian stand on hot button issues. Christian writers and bloggers have attacked each other on the regular via their websites and social media for running too hot or too cold, for speaking up or not speaking loudly enough, for being too accepting or not accepting enough. A very few have just kept on doing their thing, listening and nodding and carrying on with their calling, but most of us, at one time or another, have not been able to resist putting on the mask, hiding behind the screen, and taking our best shot across the divide.
References to New Testament verses like Matthew 18:15-17 have justified many an outburst in social media comments sections about “wrong behavior” and improper Christian living–people who are confident in their rightness feel quite free to point out every imperfection they see. But speaking strictly for myself, there is no peace in administering a metaphorical slap in the face, no solitude in “saying my piece” and voicing my disagreement, no comfort in knowing that I’ve tried to set right someone’s errant ways–because really, who am I? I was not called to preach–most of us weren’t–but suddenly the ladies at the back of the church whispering about that sinner on the second row are all standing around the pulpit fighting over the mic, and the weary souls and outsiders peeking in the windows to see what Jesus following is all about are getting quite a show. My fear is that it’s not a show they’ll see again, because once is enough to make them run for the hills, and then what good is our taking each other to task when the very people Jesus wants us inviting in want nothing to do with our strident, angry Hulk stomping and thrashing over who has crafted the best living definition of “Christian?”
In many ways today is a day of reckoning. Some of us will be relieved and some of us will be disgusted. Some of us will celebrate and some of us will sink into despair. But what if we stop worrying about who is going to move into the White House and start putting our energy where God intended it to go? What if we stop arguing, stop stepping outside our lives, and start making changes where we eat and sleep and live? Because let’s be honest: the winner of this election is not really going to make a huge impact on your day to day life, at least not today, or this week, or maybe even at all. But YOU can. If you’re a teacher, go to work tomorrow and do your very best teaching, because our future presidents and supreme court justices and senators are sitting in your classrooms right now. If you’re a doctor or a nurse, let every pulse you check, every injury you examine, every procedure you carry out, remind you that God has plans for every single one of us, weak and strong. If you’re a police officer, serve and protect everyone like it’s your mission from Heaven. If you’re a writer, put your heart in every word and then let it go with the peace and understanding that God will make sure it finds the right readers. Build, design, cook, drive, act, sing, and yes, preach, if that’s what you were called to do, but do it the way God made you to do it, and let the rest of us do the same.
Let love and purpose drive your vocation, your parenting, your way of thinking. Stop making excuses and go volunteer in your community; take your spouse and your kids. Find a church that fills your soul, where people are both trying to make Jesus and his work famous and trying to be more like Jesus. Let your children see you making your little corner of the world a better place rather than weeping and gnashing your teeth over atrocities you can’t directly alter. Pray for your mayor and your city council, your school board, your governor. Pray for our new President. Pray for each other. Because even though countless Christians have said it doesn’t matter who wins today, because God is really in charge and Jesus is Lord of All, the truth is that we are all still living here in this world together, and we have been given some very specific directions: love God, love God’s people. We tend to do okay with the loving God part, but loving people? All the people? People everywhere, who are difficult and different from us? That is hard. It is harder than deciding how we feel about a candidate, harder than figuring out where we stand on the most delicate of issues. But we’re not given a choice. It’s kind of a deal-breaker, and despite the politics of our churches and states and nations, we are to do it to the best of our ability. No need to tell others how it’s done, or to point out that someone is not doing it right. Just do it the way you were called to do it. After all, it is your love, not your politics, that will prove you are a follower of Jesus.
“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” -1 Timothy 2:2 MSG
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” -Hebrews 12:1 NLT