Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
No matter what we think about politics, Election 2016 had a big impact on how Christians talk to one another.
Who can deny that long, brutal months of online debate between family and friends bruised us? That debate changed what we fear, what we hate, and how we speak to one another. So many of us felt relationships splinter and groan, and quite a few of us emerged from the election feeling like we had looked behind the curtain of our favorite political party and found a withered little wizard pulling levers instead of some Great Oz.
Since November, we’ve felt disappointed and hopeless. We’ve also felt discouraged about continuing to expose our real selves because we’ve seen what happens to people who are vulnerable.
Last week I was reading comments under a Christian satire site’s post, and I felt a little sick watching the mocking, hateful spirit of the conversation. A female Christian teacher was accused of heresy, perversion, and greed.
Snotty, sarcastic women and domineering, cerebral men seemed to delight in dropping fiercer and fiercer charges against this writer, and I took in their animalistic fervor until I began to wish I had never agreed to write a book at all. While I don't agree with everything this woman writes, I didn’t understand how people could be so cruel to her. She’s trying to live a Spirit-led life. What more do any of us have to offer?
Yet while I was frustrated with the savagery of those comments, they were also convicting to me.
After all, I’ve handed out biting language to my own ideological opponents. I’ve called names and used sarcasm. I’ve roared against and derided people instead of going to them directly. I’ve tried to jolt people awake with extreme analogies, and I’ve excused my cruelty with, “This is for your own good.”
Don’t think I’m being humble by admitting that much. Even as I tell you what I’ve done wrong, I start to make excuses for myself.
I can’t even confess wholeheartedly to you, because deep down, I really do think that I tend to be more accurate about my judgments than most people are. I have studied a lot, I have a high IQ, and my intuition tends to prove right most of the time. If I know something, and if I tell you something, I think you should trust me. There's my pride, right there. There's my self-reliance. See it?
But even if I am right (and sometimes I am not), does my rightness justify my rudeness? (Megan Phelps-Roper). Election 2016 says yes.
Election 2016 parallels the story of the Garden of Gethsemane almost exactly. For decades, the church has slept like Peter while it should have been praying. When danger finally woke us up, we went nuts and started whacking off ears.
I assume denying the Christ three times out of fear comes next—or maybe we will just slink off and sulk. I don’t know. But I do know that there are a couple of evangelical leaders who have made me very angry, because I think they have betrayed Christ. And even though I believe that strongly, I’m not sure how to communicate my concerns without slipping in to the sort of ugliness I saw happening under last week’s Babylon Bee post.
If spiritual gifts tests are worth two shakes—and I’m not sure they are—mine tend to come back with the gifts of (1) prophesy, (2) teaching, and (3) mercy. Breaking that down, (1) I tend to sense theological error fast and deep (2) I feel God’s delight when I write or speak, and (3) I feel other people’s suffering all the way down to the bottom of my stomach.
This is a weird mix, because Gift 1 and Gift 3 can sometimes get in conflict with one another. There are times when I let truth push mercy out the door. There are other times when I let mercy dilute truth.
The 2016 election has taught me that I must learn how to balance that tension. My old, lazy ways of looking at evangelicalism are gone because I have seen demons rise from the right now as well as the left. While that experience broke my heart almost as deeply as anything ever has, in the wake of my sorrow, I have begun to fall more deeply in love with the Bible. I’ve also begun to lean into the presence of Jesus like I never remember. A few times I’ve even found myself thanking him for the death of my old template because of what it has produced in our relationship.
I’ve been scared, discouraged, lonely, disoriented — but ultimately I am finding that when my politics and my theology divide, there is only one great treasure in this world. And as I have grieved the loss of many things I once loved, I have found delight instead of just fear in the command that there be no other gods before our Creator. He is worth that sort of devotion.
But other days, I struggle with finding the heart to write.
There’s so much cruelty out there, so much barbarism. I don’t want to engage with it.
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,” Jesus predicts in Matthew, and I see now how growing cold is the great temptation in times of evil. As I watch the abuse of other teachers who have been vulnerable and tender, I want to fold inward so that I won’t face the same attacks.
It’s always horrified me to think that Jesus might have been crucified naked, but in a culture like ours, a powerful writer must be both bare and willing to receive torture while being exposed. Humiliating. No wonder Christ sweated blood in anticipation of this pain.
As I’ve worked on my book lately, I’ve caught myself whispering, “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.” That’s not altogether a selfless prayer. Forgiveness is oxygen for the creative spirit. I’m speaking ahead of time to my critics because I can hear them raging and shouting already, and releasing them gives me strength to continue creating with boldness.
If I am going to write at all, I must recognize that those men and women who respond so cruelly to the sons and daughters of Jesus have spent months forwarding proud and ugly links on their social media pages. They have drunk down self-righteous rage until they are intoxicated and primed to explode. They are sure and hard. They believe they are defenders of our country and of the faith. They enjoy tearing apart the most delicate emotions Christ’s sons and daughters reveal to them, believing (just like the Pharisees did) that they are serving their God by making holes in the flesh of Jesus. After all, the children of Christ are now his body.
I anticipate those reactions, and I’m also convicted. Like Paul, I have been Saul cheering as the children were stoned. Sometimes I still am. Sometimes I'm angry at the man behind the curtain. Sometimes I behave just like him. It’s a lot to consider.