Remember a lunchtime fight from your younger years? Tempers flared, things escalated, and teachers ran over to pull red-faced students apart? That sort of thing happens today, except it’s on social media, and it doesn't happen once every few weeks—it happens every hour or so.
Much of our present polarization—no surprise—revolves around the new Trump administration. In what follows, let me suggest four ways believers can, perhaps, retain their sanity in such a time.
First, we can leave punditry to pundits. I’m all for engaging the public square. I think every believer should do so. But there is a difference between forming a well-thought-out opinion on a matter over time, after reading books, hearing out the other side, and testing your ideas in discussion, and simply firing off a tweet or ten about your view.
This applies to a complex issue like immigration, as one example. It takes hard work to put together a Christian perspective on this matter. Not all theologians and philosophers and ethicists agree on every matter related to immigration. It’s like the biblical doctrine of love. Despite the simplistic way we sometimes approach biblical love, love in the Bible has many dimensions, and they do not all neatly translate to a one-size-fits-all policy. It is loving, for example, to offer a momentary correction to a wayward brother, to perform church discipline on a strayed friend, to tell an unbeliever that they are in sure and certain danger of God’s eternal judgment. If this is true in the matter of love, such that we cannot neatly reduce whole areas of theology to one quivering tweet, neither can we do so with public policy.
In my writing, I’ve tried in a very small way to advocate for a culture-engaged church. Now, in 2017, when politics is everything and everything is politicized—pickup trucks and national anthems and sports highlights and the list goes on–I begin to wonder if we overdo cultural-engagement. By this, I do not mean that we spend too much time poring over biblical sections, read too much rich theology, and spend too much time in the craft of nuanced essays on hard topics. I do mean that we may be mistaking hashtag activism for careful reflection.
Really—does the world need one more snarky comment from you and me? Is that going to tend toward disunity and posturing, or toward unity and charity and wisdom?
Worth asking, right?
Second, know that it is no bad thing to take a good long while to form your views. This is what education at its best allows: not microwavable insights in 100 characters, but a deep and searched reflection on the toughest questions of life. It’s part of why I love teaching at a seminary that aims students at a hefty degree, the MDiv (Master of Divinity). You frankly are not accomplished one week into your program, or one month into it, or one year into it. Even your graduation signals simply that your formal education is completed, and now your on-the-ground education in a ministry context begins (if it hasn’t already).
It’s no different in the local church. God has set things up so that his covenant people hear thousands of sermons over a lifetime. We’re less like a Hot Pocket and more like a barrier reef. We may be struck like lightning in a sermon, sure; God does that. But much of our growth in Christ takes place over decades as we faithfully listen to the Word preached. Wisdom takes a lifetime to harvest. So it is in the realm of politics. Breathe deeply; read a good book. Marinate. Pray. Take a walk.
Third, we can support our President’s actions when merited and not support them when not merited. It’s no secret that evangelicals were divided during the presidential election period. Many of us can look back and see lessons that we’ll learn from that time. One such matter we can all ruminate on is whether we showed genuine Christian charity to others who disagreed with our stance. I know I spoke too strongly at times, and I regret that.
Strange and awful though it is, we seem to have entered into still more polarizing territory following the election. Maybe the church can show the world a better way in this moment. (holds breath, begins counting) Perhaps we should neither cut President Trump a blank check for his decisions nor unendingly torch him on social media. Perhaps we can cheer the good his administration does, seeing good government as a common-grace blessing from God, and oppose the negative effects of his administration. Many of us, by the way, practiced such a policy with President Obama. We excoriated his pro-choice policies, some of the most ghoulish ever witnessed in political circles, but expressed thankfulness for the example he set as a husband and father. In truth, we must practice such a policy with every political figure.
Fourth, we can remember that we serve a kingdom greater than any on earth. It’s easy to get politics wrong as a Christian. Many today want to avoid being a kind of Moral Majority. But here’s the deal: you can so position yourself as anti-Moral Majority that you—unwittingly and ironically—end up being a new political faction. Our rejection of the party line, whatever it may be, can end up becoming a new party line. I’m not sure many younger Christians see this, but it’s a real temptation and a potential pitfall.
We should be salt and light wherever we are. But we must avoid immanentizing the eschaton as the world so badly wants us to do. We are strangers and pilgrims. We serve a greater king than any this world can imagine. While important matters call for our earthly attention, we cannot forget that the church’s unique commission is to promote a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Matthew 28:16-20). Let us not forget as well that Satan would love for us to forget this truth, and that he would exult if our overheated snarking divided the church, split up friendships, and left us without zeal for the gospel.
Today, everybody seems to want to fight. But maybe the church can be better. Maybe we can think, and reflect, and recover real discourse. Be warned: that won’t get you scores of followers. Snarking and subtweeting and hot-taking will. Such wise practice might, however, earn the praise of the Father, unseen as that reward presently is, great and glorious as it surely will be.
Editor's note: This originally published at The Center for Public Theology.