After yet another social media uproar—this time over the antics of Duck Dynasty’s patriarch Phil Robertson—it would seem to me that the polarization in our country is reaching new heights. Words are casually tossed to and fro. Everyone fighting to be loudest. Twitter—the new microphone for thoughtless casualties—leaves the hidden and silent observers reeling.
In reality of course, we are all reacting. Claiming perspectives developed through our own time-tested study and reflection, in the privacy of conversations and whispered prayers. Defending points of view we arrived at through the nuance of loving debate, pain, loss and heartache. Deeply held conviction doesn’t come easily. But friends, this is too much for 140 characters or buried Facebook comments. It’s going to require more.
Debates over whether enough women hold positions of power, or a prominent pastor fudged his source material, or Phil Robertson’s careless words—or what exactly?
It seems we care more about calling others out than our own confession.
Instead of waiting to celebrate the Messiah these final moments of Advent, we’re crafting our next sound byte. Waiting for the chance to pounce, leveraging the moment to Keep. Up. The. Ratings. Better yet, to keep up our reputation as justice fighters. In the end, it comes off very angry, very aggressive, very defensive, very hurt.
If the bride of Christ can’t show we are Christians by our love, who will?
Paul’s questions from a Philippine prison feel pressingly poignant,
“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?
Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish, don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ had” (emphasis mine).
Christ’s attitude is simply this: To give up divine privileges, to be born human, to humbly obey his Father, to die a criminal’s death on a cross.
All this … for the salvation of the world. So that every knee would bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. So we might be redeemed and made new.
Shall we we turn the tide? Who will join arms as comrades saying, “As Christ’s death and resurrection was for us, we are for each other.” Even when we don’t share the same opinions, even when we interpret scripture differently, even when our hearts have been broken on both sides of an issue.
It’s not self-affirming, not eloquent, not re-tweetable. But we are starved for it.
We are starved for someone to sit across the table, look us in the eyes and ask, “Why?” Because when the audience fades and words are found, what eventually pours out is grief.
This is the kind of painful confession that unites us.
Our culture’s response to conflict is to put each other in Time Out. What would it mean for the Church to say, “We see these issues differently, and it only makes us love each other more”? What if such conflict made us press in, engage more, ask questions more? What if it made us choose to trust the Spirit is at work in each of us working for our good?
Dare we expect more? If we drop the ball as peacemakers, unity is impossible. Perhaps this idea is too much to imagine, but it only takes a trusted few. Isn’t this what we ought to crave? Are we crazy enough to imagine unity might be possible?
As Rupertus Meldenius, an obscure 17th century theologian famously wrote, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity.” A challenging reminder to the Church in an era fueled largely by religious tensions.
We are starved to be understood.
We are starved for generosity of spirit.
We are starved for a humble response.
As we end 2013, how about we end the strife? How about we become radical messengers of love and grace like my dear brothers and sisters Ann Voskamp, Jen Hatmaker, Bob Goff and others. I believe there are many of us who want to go back to fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
This doesn’t dismiss the desperate need for thoughtful, earnest dialogue on all things that polarize us. But this will never happen as long as we stay in a mode of public defense. Let’s put down our digital weapons. Lets decide not to cut with words and instead find each other in real life. For what have we gained to build up our perceived following by cutting another’s? Let’s start each conversation with, “Help me understand why you said/feel/reacted…”
As Bob Goff states, “It’s hard to hate someone you’ve shared a meal with.” So let’s begin there. Find someone you debate online and reach out to him or her. Ask for time together in real life. This requires humility and a willingness to listen.
Lest we forget, the enemy rejoices when the gospel is thwarted by conflict. He dances when the good news is buried by condemnation. He laughs loud when we tear each other down.
May we see this distraction for what it is and confess. May we come back to the center as messengers of peace. May we receive, and therefore extend, Christ’s gracious love.