I think the only thing worse than all the tedious political coverage during an election year is having to weed through the countless political debates on social media sites. Social media is, at best, a helpful tool and, at worse, a festering wound that can ruin relationships. Add in political quips, gripes, and wild-eyed rants and it can put you right off the stuff.
But, as a veteran of Internet message boards and social media website, I feel I can honestly say that this election season has generated more hatred, anger, venom, threats, arguments and hostility than usual. Perhaps it has always been out there, and social media has just given us an easier way to spew our toxic thoughts to the masses.
Even beyond social media, I’ve received emails asking me to watch or read certain nasty political commentary. Those who have sent these unsolicited emails have filled the page with all kinds of ugly words about one candidate or party. Some of these emails and comments have even attacked me personally for not saying enough publicly about a candidate or party.
All of this has caused me to feel troubled. I say this because many of these emails are from people who claim they follow Jesus, and say they have given themselves to the God who is love. But their words and the God they follow are not congruent.
The anger, hatred and hostility of those who have sent emails and said hateful things on their Facebook wall boils down to the same thing. Fear.
While the anger with which many speak is, at first glance, almost unbelievable, just a little consideration can begin to make sense of it. The anger, hatred and hostility of those who have sent emails and said hateful things on their Facebook wall boils down to the same thing: fear.
It has been said that anger is fear coming out. If we look past the toxic commentary many are willing to post we will see a person who is afraid. This should come as no surprise. As Americans, we are fed a steady dose of fear.
Politicians, pundits, social media users and the mainstream media itself place others in the crosshairs of fear as a means of political intimidation in the hopes of getting what they want. One might think we would have nothing of it, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The reason we continually see more people peddling more fear is because it works. We cannot drink in enough of it. Fear is a flame and we are moths. This addiction to fear plays into the most primal instinct of all living creatures.
The more we are confronted with fear, the more we feel as though we have been backed into a corner, and are left to choose: fight or flight. We have made our choice obvious. We take our stand, and launch a full-scale attack with our words in an attempt to repel the perceived enemy.
It has gotten so serious that anyone who questions those on the attack is also considered an enemy. This even happens between those who are a part of the family of God. What matters in this fight, first and foremost, is not your identity in Jesus but for whom you’re going to vote. And if you are voting for someone different, than you are part of the problem, with your spiritual well-being in grave danger.
So it goes, with each vicious cycle only growing more ugly. In the end the people of God are divided along the partisan lines of an empire, and not united along the generous boundaries of grace, love and mercy found in the Kingdom of God.
What we often fail to see there is a third way.
We can abandon fear altogether. This calls for the people of God to repent — to turn around, the go the other way or to change their mind. I say, “repent,” because it’s serious business. I realize the word repent can conjure up all sorts of negative images. Think: sign decorated with flames, bullhorn, turn-or-burn and threatening Bible verses. But this is not what repentance means.
It simply means to reorient yourself so that you live, think and see the world differently. It means to look no longer through the lens of fear, but to see with new eyes. This was a message Jesus frequently preached. Jesus often proclaimed the good news about the Kingdom of Heaven, and said, “Repent!” He was calling all people to give their full allegiance to God as their king. This commitment did not allow for dual allegiance. We need to take this seriously.
It can seem that many in the Church place more hope in and have more passion for the political process of the United States of America than their passion for and hope in the good news Jesus preached about the Kingdom. Jesus, the gospel and the Bible are used as stepping-stones to get somewhere they want to go politically. Their preferred end is not the good news of Jesus, but to see their political ideals fully realized.
Some even use Jesus to rationalize their hateful behavior. One email I got was so awful; I asked the person why he would say such a thing. He replied to tell me he was “fighting for righteousness.” Really? Really?!
The psalmist claims that God’s throne is established on that which is right and just. All those comments bleed is blind fear — and fear wants little to do with love. The more deeply we root ourselves in fear the further we get from the heart of God.
It’s time for us to return the heart of God, which is also a call to abandon fear. We can’t be so naïve as to believe we will all agree on the best candidate, party or legislation. However, if we properly understand our identity as citizens of God’s kingdom we will be as one — not in spite of our differences — but in the midst of them. Perhaps that would be the most compelling picture of the Church for the world in which we live.
After all, that’s what really matters. We can at least agree on that.