Politics can be a nasty business, in large measure because it is about power, and as biblical accounts show time and again, the mix of power and fallen human nature produces an often violent, decidedly outcome.
Since human beings cannot change their own fallen inclinations, and often don’t see anything wrong with them, societies turn to long-standing traditional values of civility, kindness, tolerance and respect for law (especially in countries where laws are determined by the vote of citizens, not by court or executive fiat) to maintain national stability. When such social restraints are cast off, or subjugated to personal passions, all bets are off. Well-meaning, fervent political activists descend into hatred, demonizing their opponents as ignorant buffoons or worse, purveyors of evil.
In the present context, players in both major political parties have been guilty of this in their rabid pursuit of ultimate political power. Prior to the election, Mr. Trump warned of rigged elections and wouldn’t confirm his acceptance of the national vote: “We’ll wait and see,” was his mantra. Democrats roundly castigated him for refusing to play by the rules of our democracy. Ironically, now that the election result is confirmed, it is certain supporters of Mrs. Clinton who show their refusal to play by the rules. In the last two days, protests leading to violent riots have broken out in Portland, with threats of the same behavior looming in other major cities. In Chicago, after a minor traffic accident, a middle-aged man accused by a band of young thugs of voting for Trump is beaten and kicked and has his car stolen. In Louisiana, a female Muslim college student claims to have been assaulted and robbed by two “white men,” one of whom was wearing a Trump hat. Besides taking her wallet, they also took away her hijab while shouting racial obscenities at her. Reports of the incident went viral, until police determined the whole story was a hoax and the young woman admitted she had fabricated the whole thing.
The conclusion: some passionate folks in the liberal world are not above the use of lies and violence to seek to advance their cause. They are operating according to the natural inclinations of the sinful human heart.
On the other hand, among those thrilled by the election of Donald Trump we find some passionate folks also seeking to intimidate and belittle their defeated “opponents.” Reports of middle schoolers in Michigan chanting “Build the wall” during lunch hour in the cafeteria, evidence of post-election anti-Muslim and/or racist graffiti found in a high school bathroom in MN, at NYU in the Big Apple, on a storefront in Philadelphia, on a public wall in Durham, NC, indicate that the demonizing of others is not limited to one party.
When the social contract of civility and kindness breaks down, where do we turn for healing and restoration?
Not to secular humanism, for it has no antidote to the brokenness of our human nature from which such hatreds spring, only utopian bromides pleading with us to overlook the clashing convictions that separate us into hating and hated groups.
Not to Islam, which urges the use of power to conquer one’s enemy. Of course, for Islam the enemy is not simply Republicans or Democrats or even Americans as a whole, but rather all who have not bowed the knee to Allah. We non-Muslims are labeled Dar al-Harb (the Region of War) by Islam, and Muslims are commanded to oppose us, our beliefs and way of life with whatever power they have until we finally submit and the Region of War surrenders to Dar al-Islam, the Region or House of Islam.
And not to any other philosophy or religious system of the world, because all of them are built upon mobilizing a flawed human nature to try to cure that flawed human nature.
Only Jesus has a hope-inducing word to say on this matter. Instead of demonizing or obliterating one’s enemies through exercise of worldly power, Jesus says:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44), and
“I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Lk 6:27-31).
Of course, to the world this sounds like idealistic nonsense, or worse, a recipe for personal destruction. But Jesus lived it out in his own circumstances. When arrested under false pretenses by the worldly power-brokers of his day, Jesus forbade his disciples from using force to defend him, especially Peter who had already unsheathed his sword and drawn the blood of one of the high priest’s servants: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Mt. 26:52). Jesus claimed that he could have gone the route later promulgated by Muhammad — the use of power to destroy his opposition: “Do you think I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions [a legion consists of 6,000 soldiers] of angels?” (Mt. 26:53). Instead, Jesus endured the hatred and demonization of those who thought they could “win” by crucifying Jesus, thereby humiliating him and everything he stood for as he breathed his last while riveted to a Roman cross. Yet upon being nailed to the cross and hoisted before a derisive crowd, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If you want to know what it means in practice to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, just look at the example of Jesus.
Yes, you say, but he’s Jesus — I’m no Jesus. I don’t have that kind of love in my heart. All too true, as we are seeing played out left and right in America today.
However, Jesus taught that we can have this kind of love in our hearts for others. The catch is, it demands new hearts. Not simply hearts that try harder to be loving, or to reform themselves through strict moral regimen, but hearts that are filled with a new spirit — the Spirit of Jesus. When speaking with one of Israel’s prominent religious leaders, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus asserted that to see the Kingdom of God, one must be born anew, or born from above. That is, to reflect the values of God’s heaven, one must have a heavenly nature. Such a stature cannot be earned, purchased or wished into existence but only received as a gift of the Spirit imparted by Jesus to those willing to follow him. It is this new heart which enables fallen sinners to live according to Jesus’ otherwise impossible ethics — to love their enemies, to seek the good of those who seek their harm, to give without thought of return, even to surrender one’s own life so that others may live.
If I may be so bold as to suggest, what we need in America is not the ascription of blame to the “other,” nor the counsel to “act on your rage/take bats to the enemy,” nor the fear-mongering of a burgeoning racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, homophobic hell on earth, nor on the other hand the mocking dismissals of those ascending to political power, “Quit your whining! Suck it up. Now it’s our turn!”
What we need instead is ears to hear what Jesus is teaching. Wouldn’t it be amazing if politicians sought office as a way of surrendering their personal agendas for the welfare of the nation, if political parties were filled with leaders whose hearts sought to build bridges of compromise for the common good, if the large majority of Americans were moved by the pursuit of heavenly virtues rather than by a hunger for earthly power? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of demonizing our opponents, we overwhelmed them with acts of kindness and honor and trust?
It can begin today, but it must begin in our own hearts and actions. We must turn our hearts over to Jesus for replacement surgery. And then we must pray for our nation that God will sweep across our population and grant to others the same gift that He has given us. We must by His grace put to death the old ways of insults, mocking, belittling, deception, bribery, coercion, intimidation and the like.
Is such a thing possible? The lives of millions of Christians down through the ages attests that it indeed is, but the road is not easy, because half-hearted measures are ineffective. If we are not all-in with regard to living for Jesus, then we are all-out living for the ways of the flesh, with only a religious veneer. We know only too well where that road takes us.
So, how about a new direction?
And now, a word from Jesus….