The following article is part of a continuing series of blog posts about the famous Love Is list from 1st Corinthians 13. You can access other pages from the series on the Love Is page.
I believe that the words in the famous love list are in a specific order for a reason. I believe that patience must come before kindness because our hearts cannot be in the right place to behave kindly without patience. In other words, if we do not endure adversity “calmly and without complaint,” then we are not in a frame of mind that is conducive of kindness. Someone who gets bent out of shape, complaining or even threatening retaliation for the wrongs he has experienced cannot possibly behave kindly. We must first endure the hardships, then we can share our kindness with others.
This is just as true in politics as it is in other aspects of life. Once we grow enough spiritually to endure (calmly and without complaint) the insults and offenses of our political opponents, we can then begin to be kind to them. And in fact, we must be kind to them. We are commanded to love them and love is kind!
At this point I should clarify that I am not referring to the behavior of the political candidates themselves. In this blog post I am writing about you and me. I am writing about “we the people” on the streets and the way we treat the political opponents in our lives.
I believe it is important to learn how to recognize unkindness in order to know when we are behaving that way ourselves. I have been accused of judging others for this sort of recognition. That makes no sense to me. If I see that something you did caused harm to another person, saying so is not condemnation. I am not judging you by pointing out that you injured someone. More importantly, when we learn to recognize sin this way, we learn what to avoid in the way we live our own lives. Sin committed in ignorance is still sin. We should all be happy and celebrate whenever we learn a better way to live.
I know this is way off topic, but it is something I feel compelled to share again. It is very important that every Christian should understand that all sins are sins because they cause harm to other people. It’s not just about following a bunch of silly, irrelevant rules. Certain actions and behaviors are considered sins because of the problems they cause in people’s lives.
I know that some would say that some sins are sins because they offend God, but all of those things that could be said to offend God can also be traced back to making life worse for other people. We live in an extremely self centered society. We want what we want and how we want it. We tend to not think about how our actions effect other people. We tend to not think about how our actions will effect our children, their children and their children’s children. We tend to not think about how our behavior effects not only the person we met on the streets today, but the many people that person will meet in the future, and so on. Avoiding sin is not only for making your own life better. We avoid that behavior because when we do, MANY PEOPLE are blessed by our actions.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we all could see the consequences of our behavior before we do anything? What if every time we passed someone on the street we could see the different paths that person’s life will follow based on how we behave when we meet? What if we could see the far reaching damages of sin before hand? What if we could see the multitude of blessings so many people would experience if we chose that for them? Wouldn’t we always do the right thing from now on if this was how it worked?
The problem is that we don’t see the consequences for the way we behave unless we take a step back and look. Long before we meet someone on the street, we have to have already seen the difference between living selflessly and selfishly. When you do take the time to step back and do that kind of thinking and observation, you will KNOW why you shouldn’t do the things you KNOW you shouldn’t do. And it’s always because of the harm your selfishness causes to other people.
So yes, unkindness works that way as well. When we are unkind, it perpetuates the emotional cycle I talked about in previous posts. When we are unkind, give people precisely what they deserve (insults or what have you), you then motivate them to do the very same with you. So it’s important to step back, like I said in the note above, and look at your life in an attempt to recognize your own unkindness.
I’m going to share a few things I found on Facebook that I think represent unkindness in politics. I am only sharing these so that you can hopefully recognize unkindness in your own life. I do not condemn you. I do not judge you. If you feel bad because of anything I ever write in my Expression of Grace blogs, know that it is probably your conscience, because I do not condemn. I educate. I am a teacher at heart. That is who God made me and why he put me on this planet. I am here to help people learn.
These are true examples of unkindness in politics. You may think, depending on what side of the political fence you are sitting on, that three of these pictures are justifiable and well deserved. But kindness is when you give what is not deserved! You may believe that your political opponents do not deserve to be treated in a dignified manner, but as a loving Christian, you are commanded to treat them that way anyway, whether they deserve it or not. If you are a Christian, you have no business “sharing” those kinds of images/messages.
There are a great deal of supposedly well deserved expressions of hatred mixed up in our current political environment. Do you agree that hatred is the absence of love? If you do, then any time you stick it to your political opponents, even when you think they deserve it, you are expressing hatred towards them because “love is kind.” The absence of that kindness is hatred. If you are a Christian, then you shouldn’t be sticking it to anyone.
One of the most common techniques used among my Facebook friends in their political attacks is when they accuse their opponents of holding positions that they do not hold.
This reminds me a lot of the Christmas gift my ex gave me right after she left me. When I opened it and saw that it was a dart board, she said, “You can put my picture on it and throw darts at it.”
When we accuse someone, anyone, of holding a position they do not actually hold, it is as cowardly as throwing darts at someone’s picture. It’s like putting someone’s face on a punching bag and pounding on it until you feel better. In the end, you may feel better for having expressed your frustrations, but you haven’t dealt with any true, practical issues yet.
There is a name for this technique. It’s called a “straw-man attack.” Straw-man attack is when you prop someone up (like a straw man) on some false issue in a way that makes it easy for you to knock him down.
How do you know you are guilty of using a straw-man attack?
Ask yourself, “am I trying to attack what my opponent is thinking?”
If your attack is based on assumed reasons “why” someone did something or “why” they hold a certain position, you are probably guilty of straw-man attacks. If you think someone holds a certain view because he is a racist or because he is homophobic, you are diverting attention away from the real issues. You do this, perhaps without even knowing it, because it is easier to knock that racist, homophobic straw-man down than it is to confront the actual issues.
Likewise, if you accuse someone of only desiring to destroy the country, you have sidetracked the issues and opted for the easier straw-man attack. Instead of focusing on what you think your opponents reasons are for holding the positions they do, you should be focusing on the actual issues themselves. If you do your own investigation and think about the costs and consequences of every political issue, you can work with other people to find practical solutions that work for everyone. But for as long as you prop your opponents up with opinions that they do not hold, you will never make any political progress.
Political progress is impossible in an environment where people do not treat each other with dignity. Straw-man attacks are undignified because they fail to give people the opportunity to be heard. If I have something important I want to share with a group of people and it is shot down because I am an evil jazz musician (in some societies jazz musicians are still regarded as evil people), where the emphasis is on my own righteousness and not the important idea I have to share, then everyone involved misses out. They attack the evil jazz musician thing because that’s easy for them. It’s not so easy to attack the idea I want to share because to do that, they would first have to understand that idea. Which takes time, effort and a little bit of intelligence. So they shoot the idea down based on the fact that I am an evil jazz musician.
Straw-man attacks are cowardly, unkind and unChristian. You may think your political opponents do not deserve to have their positions considered seriously. You may think that they deserve to have you prop them up like pictures on a dart board so you can easily attack them the way they have attacked you. But it is an act of kindness to consider their positions, ideals and opinions anyway. It is an act of unkindness to accuse them of having evil intentions. It is an act of unkindness to treat them in an undignified manner just because that’s how they treated you.
Another form of unkindness is name-calling. I understand that usually when it’s done in the context of politics, it is meant to be humorous. Political satire can indeed be very funny. But more often than not, in the community that I see with my own two eyes, this name calling has gone far beyond the realm of political satire and rests more in the area of degradation. The names I hear people use are terms of disrespect.
This sort of name calling is unkind. It is unloving. It is un-Christian.
What Can We Do?
When I know that a Christian friend of mine means well, but has been caught up into the hype of the political fervor, I often privately tell him what God has been telling me all along about Christianity in the context of politics. I don’t do this with everyone because I get the feeling that some “conservative Christians” truly are genuinely hateful and could care less if what they say and do is sinful. To them, being a conservative Christian is not a Christian thing at all. It’s a cultural thing. They miss the country they grew up in and they will do anything to get it back. For them, I leave them alone because sharing what God has told me will make no difference in their lives. But for those who I know to be true Christians, I tell them the things I’ve been sharing here on my blog about loving our political opponents.
Almost always their response is, “What does God want me to do, just give up and let them destroy our nation?”
Uhmmm…. I never said we were supposed to give up!
There is nothing wrong with discussing the issues. If you believe that Pr. Obama’s health care act is bad, feel free to communicate your thoughts about it. If you think same sex marriage is necessary, on a federal level, please feel free to communicate your ideals. It is entirely possible to discuss major issues and remain kind in the process.
So how can you do that?
Well, the first step is to listen to your opposition! Listen to what they have to say. Reach for high enough of a level of understanding that you know why they want what they want, or need what they need. Until you do this, you cannot be kind in your political life. Once you understand their wants, needs and desires, THEN you can debate with them in a way that lifts everyone up.
Each of the words in the famous love list (1 Cor 13) can be applied to almost every aspect of our lives, including politics. At the rate I’m going, I probably won’t get through all of the words in the list before the November elections. So I encourage all of you to read the list yourself and ask yourself, do you live according to this command (remember that Jesus commanded us to love) in the context of your political life.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.