So, one my my favorite restaurants has been the center of quite the media frenzy these past few days over their stance against giving same sex couples the right to marry.
(That statement was for those living under a rock.)
Since I was tired of hearing about this about 3 and a half minutes after the media ball got rolling on it, I hesitated to chime in. Even at the risk of tossing another log on a fire built in the middle of summer, there is something at stake here that is worth talking about. And this something is, in my opinion, but a symptom of a much greater malaise affecting our culture today.
Simply put, slander is not right, nor it is constructive. Regardless of where most are focusing their attention, what has exposed the character of our nation the most has been how we have treated those with whom we disagree.
We tend to see slander only when it is used against us. In the midst of the name calling, anger, boycotting, rallying behind, etc., I have heard a few voices that have spoken against slander. I have deeply appreciated the desire to request respectful dialogue. What has been troublesome, however, has been that we are only able to see when the other has slandered us. I would love to see honest apologies coming from both sides of any issue concernring the unfair and damaging rhetoric used to express opinions.
We seek only confirmation of our own convictions rather than a genuine hearing of others. This tendency is connected to a bigger problem that everyone is guilty of - listening uncritically to the voices that affirm our convictions and fears and suspiciously to those that disagree. The research has revealed that the media outlets we all turn to are those that agree with what we already want to think. And when we hear them, we think they are unbiassed and fair. When the others news agencies speak up, though, they are intentionally distorting the facts for their agenda. We will never mature as a culture until we learn how to genuinely listen to each other. We will never mature as a culture until we can be honest about slander and deceit whether or not is supports our side of an issue. It is all to common for one side to get mad at the other for - I don't know - taking a quote out of context to ridicule someone, when they themselves have done the same.
Three, we all, especially Christians, need to examine why this instance has been able to cause such deep emotions and far reaching reactions. If what Jesus said is true that, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks," then the heated words that have been expressed need to be examined. What fears are in our hearts that make this situation worth so much anger? What anxieties? What resentments? We need to deal with the seeds of darkness that are in our hearts that allow us to so easily be drawn into mean-spirited judgment. It is on this, my third thought, that I feel we move WAY beyond Chick-fil-a's opinion about marriage. I know this will blow over in a matter of days. I am not writing about this because I think this one scenario is of such import. No, I chose to speak up because this is but one example of Christians engaging in public discourse in a manner that betrays Jesus, regardless of the rightness of the stances we are taking. If I speak the right answer in the wrong way, I am still wrong. And, oh, how I have been guilty of this!
I hold a lot of strong convictions, many of which are about issues that can easily stir controversy. I am not asking Christians to back away from passionate conviction. Nor am I asking Christians to be silent about them. We live in a representative democracy where the voice of the people, regardless of creed, is to shape the direction of the nation. For that reason the faith voice, just like all others, needs to be heard and respected.
But we cannot hide behind being morally right on an issue when we have resorted to slander, petty stereotypes, elementary logic, and a refusal to listen to others.
We are a people who follow a Jesus about whom it was said, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats" (1Pt 2:23). Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek, loving one's enemies, carrying the gear of the enemy occupier for a four mile round trip. Jesus made no exceptions for deceit, anger, retaliation, judgmentalism, etc. for participation in politics. There is a difference in offering constructive criticism about policies you don't support and attacking the character of another human being. The cartoons, quotes, videos, etc. that rip words out of context, offer simple rhetoric to complex issues, and make a person out to be a "destroyer of America" is not okay.
On both sides of this and every other issue, some have taken to waving a flag saying that their vision of America is most true and right. Those doing this are saying that somehow the other side of the issue is tantamount to destroying the constitution or abandoning the values that make us a great nation. We would not let our own children argue with each other with such demonizing techniques.
This is very difficult. When I see a politician or a whole group of people speaking passionately against something that I believe to be right, just, and fair, it makes me upset. My immediate reactions, way too often, are to get angry at those people, make judgments about their character, and assume only those that think like me are right on this issue. Worse, I think that only those who think like me on this issue are truly hearing Scripture and truly interested in following Jesus. But I don't have room for this attitude when someone on the other side uses it against me.
Jesus said to treat others as we want to be treated. What if we tried that in politics? What do we want? Here is what I want...
To be heard even if disagreed with
To be engaged in thoughtful dialogue
To have the complexities of my opinion appreciated and not reduced to a straw man
To be honored for trying hard to work out my faith in the opinions I hold
So, if we see slander taking place, even and especially when it is done by those we agree with, let's call it for what it is.
It is my prayer that the people of Jesus will act like Him when trying to advocate for those things we think He would want. And it is my prayer that we are humble enough to know that we just might be wrong about what we think that is.