It’s all political. All the time.
At least that’s what it feels like. Whether you voted for Trump or loathe him with every last bit of plasma in every drop of blood in your body, it seems like the promise of “moving past this contentious election season,” is not going to materialize. No doubt, your Twitter feed and your Facebook page are as full as ever with political punditry—much of it well intentioned, only some of it well considered. What are we to do as Christians when there is so much we might want to say, and yet, we’d like to say it in a way that makes a difference instead of just making noise?
Perhaps a look at the negative will point us in a positive direction. Let’s briefly consider seven ways to do political punditry wrong in a polarized world.
(And for the record, I started this post last week, so don’t read the executive order on immigration into every point. This post isn’t about one thing, but about everything that grabs our attention in a social culture built on perpetual outrage.)
1. Always defend your side, no matter what. I have no problem with people who don’t feel the need to comment on every twist and turn of American politics (in fact, may your tribe increase!). But if you are in the habit of making your opinions known, and you never find yourself out of step with your party or your preferred president, then you likely aren’t looking closely enough at the issues—theirs and yours.
We have to be honest with ourselves and ask some hard questions: Is my passion to see the kingdom come and the church grow, or is it mainly to see my side win elections? Do I think revival and spiritual renewal come mainly through political victories? Am I blinded by disgust for the bad guys (whether that’s Fox News, MSNBC, The New York Times, National Review, Hollywood, flyover country, or whatever) that I’ll defend to the death whatever they seem to be against?
2. Be quick to demonize opponents on the other side. We don’t have disagreements anymore; we only have devils. This means that nominee we oppose or that Senator standing in the way of our position is not simply mistaken (according to our principles) but some toxic combination of ignorant, conniving, and fiendish—a mortal threat to everything that is decent in this world.
3. Make no distinction between prudence and principle. Christians are not good at this one. Let’s assume for a moment that most people reading this blog think abortion is wrong, racism is wrong, terrorism is wrong, hating Muslims is wrong, and being cold-hearted toward immigrants and refugees is wrong. Those are principles. The vast majority of conservative Christians will at least pay lip service to all of these things; most actually believe them with sincere earnestness. But what does this mean in terms of policies, executive orders, and legislation? Here there may be honest disagreement—not about what is good and true and beautiful for Christians to do and think, but about what is the best way forward, in light of these convictions, in a constitutional republic of 330 million people.
4. Never acknowledge real world trade-offs. In our virtual worlds, there are always clear-cut decisions with obvious goods and obvious evils. Hence, every political issue is a matter of absolute right and absolute wrong. In the real world—and especially in the real world of governing—there are always trade-offs. We have to judge between competing goods, which means we usually have to give something to gain something. It would go a long way toward a more civilized discourse—and we may actually convince a few people on the other side—if we acknowledged that our views are usually not without some difficulties, even if we consider our “losses” superior to the “losses” we would endure with a different policy or opinion.
5. Only speak and write in the highest rhetorical gear. At some point in the future, you may need the Hitler analogy. Don’t waste it on arcane procedures regarding cloture in the Senate. Not all errors are created equal. Break out the diabolical thesaurus only when the time is right.
6. Don’t bother reading up on complex issues. Most of the problems plaguing our country or our world will not be solved by 90 seconds of reflection. We don’t all have to be experts. Sometimes the knee-jerk reaction comes from a place of seasoned wisdom and moral formation. But if there were an easy solution to every problem it would have been tried by now—not because we are all saints striving to love one another, but because we love to be first or would enjoy being famous. Go ahead and read a few articles before posting. Check out the actual statement or text of legislation. And when in doubt, let’s all feel free not to say anything at all (!) about a complicated issue that we’ve been thinking about in between Dude Perfect videos.
7. Go public with your thoughts when you are most hurt and most angry. Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to get angry. That’s still in the Bible (James 1:19), and it still counts, even in the internet age. Waiting is often the better part of wisdom.