Pastor’s Perspective. . .
Baptists of an earlier vintage saw our political disagreements as part of the reason that we affirmed the separation of Church and State, and rightfully recognized that our political differences could not separate us as long as we maintained a safe haven of peace and love in our congregational and spiritual life. That unity is based on the love of God in Jesus Christ, but throughout the nation the love of God and neighbor has seemingly grown cold and the spirit of unity that has held us together as a people is now in jeopardy.
Many have become caught up in the angry and vitriolic voices that have been amplified throughout the nation. After a particularly divisive election season many within the nation have abandoned their Christian love for each other in order to take a stand for a political cause or party. Worse yet, the political rancor has found a safe haven within many local Churches, as brothers and sisters in Christ separate from each other over partisan policies and positions.
Part of our problem is that we have been bombarded with “fake news.” Like partisan rancor, fake news has always been with us. The only difference between then and now is that we used to refer to it as an editorial perspective or a speculative theory. In the past we knew that the Conservative (or liberal) editorialist had a particular viewpoint that she was arguing from and we had the good sense to challenge and question the inferences made to defend her opinions. We understood the bias and knew that the task of the editorialist was to argue a perspective, not to objectively report the facts.
In the days before the advent of television news we received our news from print editions of the local newspaper, and each city had multiple papers which delivered distinct perspectives on the daily news. This is still the case in large metropolitan areas. Cities like New York and Chicago have newspapers that reflect a particular journalistic perspective. In the old days we accepted the subjectivity of reporting, and taught journalists that the first rule of objective journalism (or its attempt) was to identify their own bias. Journalists attempted to share the news on the front page of the paper, while restricting their opinions to the editorial pages. Over the years the methods of news delivery have been radically transformed, blurring the lines between facts and opinions.
The television age increased the speed of the news and decreased its objectivity. The contents of an entire newspaper were distilled in to a 25 minute time frame, causing the media to choose which stories would be told and which one ignored. TV news also accelerated the rush to judgement by rewarding the networks that presented the news “first.” The advent of cable news only exacerbated the situation. Now instead of a single 6 pm deadline, cable news networks offered 24/7 cycles of reporting. Cable news became dominated by the opinions of celebrity anchors, as talking heads engaged in real time debates before, during, and after any given event. And then social media took over…
We have now moved beyond the television age to an egalitarian moment of immediate and constant connection. Social media allows for individuals and organizations to publish perspectives and opinions instantly to anyone with a smart phone. This information is immediately shared and circulated throughout the world. The news world has been turned upside down. The news is now dominated by personal opinions and every man, woman, and child is the man on the street delivering their report to an awaiting public. Is anyone truly surprised that this environment is populated by “fake news.”
These changes have created a toxic political and social environment. All sides of the political aisle have learned the effectiveness of getting in front of the story or finding a way to control the news cycle through tweets, on-line reporting or simply good old fashioned lies. Each political perspective has a well-oiled rumor machine to feed the fake news beast: media sources and websites publish rumors, innuendos and premature conclusions in an effort to inflame their base and demean the other side.
Unfortunately many Christians have become trapped in the brave new world of personal journalism. Good people on both sides of the political aisle have become addicted to instantaneous and constant reports from their chosen perspective and obsessively share them with their “friends.” Those on the other side take the bait and respond to the provocation and the game is on.
The new media world (and all forms of the media have been impacted by the new standards) is not just biased, but relentlessly negative and spiritually toxic. The media beast that we encounter seeks not to share the truth, but to destroy. Fake news rarely tells a feel good story or ends with people linking arms to bless their enemy. The fake news beast always seeks to devour its enemy. It always assumes the worst and infrequently inspires love. This toxic environment has turned intellectual differences into hate-filled battlegrounds, transformed family gatherings into political minefields, all while feeding our modern egocentrism by convincing every person with a smart phone that they are an integral part of revealing the “truth” to the world.
This toxic spirit has been a part of our world since the serpent whispered demonic half-truths into the ears of the first couple. The end result of Satan’s fake news was the loss of innocence, the fall of humanity, and the beginning of blame. Though God forgave them, we never forgave each other and to this day fail to offer the grace necessary to live in harmony with God and each other. The prophets tried to share the truth of God and were mercilessly persecuted, exiled, and murdered. Even Jesus Christ was not immune to the indignities of false accusations in life, and after his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection remains the victim of pernicious lies and historical half-truths.
So how can we stop this type of behavior?
We must begin by listening to the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once stated, “Unqualified silence might perhaps be more appropriate today than talk which is very unqualified” and learn to stay silent while the rest of the world is shouting. Wait for a moment before you respond to the hate that encircles you. Take a deep breath, say a prayer, and maybe even sleep on it before you post that acerbic response to your third cousin’s attack on your favorite actress’s opinion about Syrian refugees. Then make sure that your response is a Christian one. Do not believe for a moment that you are here to represent yourself. You are here to represent God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Make sure that your response shares the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
Represent the Savior well.
It is not easy to hear slanderous words and respond in love, but this is the work of the Church. We are the body of Christ and we must follow the example of our Lord and Master. There will be times when you will fail. There will be times when someone else fails. In those moments remember that Jesus did not die for one side or the other. Jesus died so that ALL may experience the love and the grace of God. In the same way that we rely on the grace of God in Jesus Christ to cover our sins, we are also commanded to offer that grace to others when they fail you.
If you have trouble resisting the temptations of our time, then here are some words to live by…
“But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also…” Jesus from the Gospel of Luke 6:27-29
Make Us One In Your Love,