Christians Must not Participate in the Culture of Outrage
Americans are at a dangerous place in their history. We live in a culture of outrage. Unfortunately everything has become political, and outrage is the new cool.
There is a reason for this.
A long time ago historians, philosophers and political theorists began to talk in terms of a “progression of history.” They believed history was moving and humanity was developing. At the end of this development was some sort of point where all would be well. You can see this idea reflected in the writings of thinkers as diverse as John Locke and Karl Marx. Political theorists are still building their ideas on the idea of progression. Each stage is supposed to be better than the last.
I see many Christians buying into this philosophy, and because we passionately believe that what comes next should be better than what came before, we get angry and threatened if it doesn’t look like it will.
This anger has become standard fare in American political discourse. Many years ago when President Clinton took office there was a trailblazer in American political discourse who became ridiculously rich by creating a persona that was angry at the democratic party. And after him, networks and many other famous personalities took off on the same trajectory. The democrats tried this too, but frankly I think the more conservative people were more successful at this.
I try not to reveal where I stand on politicians too much, but because I want you to read what I have to say, I will confess that I never voted for President Clinton, and in fact voted against him. And early on I even enjoyed listening to the anger expressed against him on the radio show.
But as the years went on and the anger began to grow I began to see how the minds of my fellow Christians were being corrupted by this form of entertainment.
And it was entertainment. People liked to laugh and make fun of scandals involving the people they didn’t like. It seemed harmless.
As most conservatives will happily tell you, our entertainment choices have a way of desensitizing us and shaping us. It is the conservatives who have campaigned against the porn industry, and even violence and sexuality on prime time TV for exactly that reason. But the entertainment choices many conservatives picked were nonetheless filled with anger and hatred. And it got worse over the years.
Rational political discourse, in which we calmly consider our opponent’s viewpoint has entirely ceased. If we don’t like their policies, suddenly there is nothing whatsoever about a person that is worthy of respect.
How We have Fallen prey to this Deception
I will give you an example. Recently in President Obama’s farewell speech he spoke high words of praise and honor toward his wife and his children. The man has been married to the same woman for 24 years, and as far as we know he has been faithful to her.
Yet, there are many conservative Christians in this country who cannot bring themselves to respect this about the sitting President. Instead they are eager to replace him with a man who we all know has had three wives and cheated on his first two. Now, I don’t want to debate the level of character that we want in the white house.
But now consider: how many conservative Christians would be angry if we criticized the character of President Elect Trump and praised the character of Barak Obama? I am betting some of you are fuming already.
Objectively looking at marital faithfulness and treatment of their wives, Obama wins the character race hands down. Yet, because we prefer the policies of one to the other, we can’t bring ourselves to say this out loud. And instead we defend the one and dishonor the other. This is not only cruel, it is dishonest.
Now, you aren’t off the hook if you fall on the other end of the political spectrum. Character defects or not, Donald J. Trump is about to be the next president of the United States. You should take this opportunity to outshine your political rivals and honor the man for the chair he will sit in. You should respect the democratically elected leader of our republic and stop the anger. Conservatives have certainly failed to do that for the last 8 years. It is shameful the things that have been spoken against President Obama. Even now as he seeks to make a graceful exit, his opponents are outrageously cruel and insensitive. If you wanted Hillary to win and despise the very thought of a Trump presidency, I am asking you to teach the conservative movement what it looks like to be kind and respectful to our opponents.
But none of that is the point.
The real problem isn’t the state of our national political discourse. The real problem is that Christians are participating in it.
Remember the idea of political progression? This is the foundational belief that fuels the behavior of mean, angry conservative Christians. Yet here is the problem. This is not what Christians believe.
We believe the exact opposite.
We believe that as human developments occur we will do whatever we can to make it worse. (I submit our current state of affairs as exhibit A).
When we sit in church on Sunday and we confess that we are sinners, we are recognizing that what we do on our own is selfish. We admit that without the intervention of Christ we will continue to make a mess of our lives and our society. And we do. Over and over again we wreck both our lives and our society.
Right now in our own city there is an effort to recall our mayor. Our mayor is a good man. I know him. He is a man who knows he isn’t always right, but who looks outside himself for help, prayer and input. Now, do I agree with everything he has ever done? Of course not. I don’t even agree with everything I’ve ever done. My bet is you don’t either. But we are so immersed now in a culture of outrage that rather than accept the choice we made a few years ago we would rather subject our city to a costly re-election, take time and energy away from the business of running our city and create even more anger and division. And we do this to slake the bloodlust planted in us many years ago by our false ideologies and poor entertainment choices.
Christians must be different.
The New Testament writer Paul told people to honor their political leaders. And their political leaders were pagan emperors who wanted them dead. Whatever you may think about the personal faith of our elected leaders, the vast majority claim Christianity as their faith, and we can’t even honor them!
Christian, we must do better.
Earlier in this post I called on liberals to teach conservatives how to respect leaders they disagree with. But now I call on you. I call on us! We MUST lead the way in this. For our country to survive, political discourse must become civil. But far more importantly, for the church in our country to survive, she must be civil.
In Philippians 1:27 Paul calls his readers to “Exercise your citizenship (your English Bible may say “Live” but the greek word actually refers to citizenship) in a way that is consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The New Testament commands us to “Exercise your citizenship in a way that is consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Gospel teaches us that we all fall short of perfection. Be consistent, don’t hold your leaders to it either.
The Gospel teaches us that no human leader can ever make our society whole. Be consistent, don’t expect one to and then don’t get angry when they don’t.
The Gospel teaches us that we are called to bring peace to a broken world. Be consistent, don’t bring divisions and hatred.
The Gospel teaches us to be humble and forgiving. Be consistent, Pray the words you recite on Sunday “…as we forgive our debtors.”
The Gospel teaches us that our only hope is in the return of the one who is King. Be consistent, don’t be too angry when your leaders don’t fully live up to your hope.
We are the church. We are the salt and light of the world. Do not lose your saltiness, and do not cover your light. Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean we have to change our beliefs. We just need to be nice about them.
Stand apart from the anger and hatred. Show honor to your leaders and to those who oppose you. Seek to forgive.
I say this to myself as well. I must seek to forgive many who seem to be angry. Some who I already deeply love and others who I only know on facebook. But while forgiving and loving all, I must also call us all to repent and to walk in the humble way. The messy way, the dirty way of the cross. This means to forgive even those who oppose us.
This is the Christian way. Let us learn what it means to exercise our citizenship consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Join me in this prayer for America and for our city:
Dear God, remind us that we are the worst of sinners. Convict the hearts of your people that no one deserves condemnation, death and hell as much as we do. Break the hearts of the church over our own sin first. Destroy the pride, anger, and self righteousness we are prone to. Turn our eyes from the way our opponents have hurt our society and instead shine a light on the way WE have. Cause us to weep over this. Empty every single church pew of hatred, violence and cruelty toward our leaders. Teach us what it means to respect people we disagree with. Let us lead the way in forgiving others and bringing peace to our fractured culture. Help us to exercise our citizenship in a way that is consistent with the Gospel we believe. – Amen, may it be so.