I’m not that old. (Don’t hold it against me, but I’m a millennial.) And yet, I seem to remember a time when our political atmosphere wasn’t as divisive and toxic as it is today. I remember being able to still get along with those with whom I had important political differences.
Today that seems almost impossible in many cases. Part of the reason is that politics has dominated everything. It’s all over TV and social media, and it has affected our relationships with everyone.
We define everyone’s identity on the basis of their politics. I’ve lost longtime friends over heated political disagreements on Facebook. I know some people who haven’t even spoken to their own family in years over their politics.
Jay Leno, former Tonight Show host, recently expressed some of these same complaints. He lamented that doing Late Night Comedy isn’t as easy as it once was. He said that it’s gotten too serious and one-sided. He wishes that there was more civility. He said, “The theory when we did the show was, you just watched the news, we’ll make fun of the news, and get your mind off the news. Now, people just wanna be on the news all the time.”
But late night comedians are just giving their viewers what they want, right? If they had no audience for it, they wouldn’t do it. The politics-saturated media is merely a symptom of the culture. The bitterness and mean-spiritedness in our media are largely because we Americans have so much hate in our hearts toward each other.
How do we heal as a nation despite our important differences on political, cultural, and moral issues? How do we bring civility back in our culture? How do we get along again?
One thing we cannot do is compromise the truth or our values. The mere fact that we take a stand for truth automatically makes us enemies to those who hate the truth. But we can still stand for truth while working toward peace and civility.
I don’t have all the answers to solve this daunting problem, but I do think it must begin with us. And the first step toward healing, I think, is remembering that underneath all of the ideology with which we strongly differ is a human being made in the image of God. Yes, we can passionately disagree and argue with their ideas—and we must!—but we do not dehumanize our opponents based on those ideas.
Jesus expects his followers to stand for the truth. But he also said to love your enemies in Matthew 5:43-48. We can’t change our enemies’ behavior or force them to want to get along, but we can do a few things to perhaps bring about healing and peace within our social circles. So what does loving your enemies look like practically?
The FIRST thing we do is pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Doing this changes the way we see them. It helps us to stop dehumanizing them and defining them simply on the basis of their political views. Prayer is powerful and transformative. It changes us and centers us on the values that transcend our American politics. When was the last time you prayed for your political opponents?
SECOND, we acknowledge that it “rains on the just and unjust” (v. 45). That is to say, God shows kindness by providing for even the unjust—those who are considered His enemies. This helps us remember that, before we became Christians, we were considered God’s enemies. It’s humbling to remember where we came from, who we were, and the mercy and kindness that God has bestowed and continues to bestow upon us. As children of God, we ought to show the same kindness toward others that God has shown toward us.
THIRD, we greet them (v. 47). That is to say, we treat them with dignity and respect as fellow humans. Setting aside our differences long enough to muster up a friendly “hello” goes a long way. We “like” their pictures of their kids that they post on Facebook. We show an interest in their lives beyond political discussions—you know, like everyone used to do before American politics saturated all of modern life.
These are small, practical steps we can take to cultivate civility. This isn’t a problem that will be fixed overnight, but if we commit to walking out Jesus’ command, then maybe we can make a small impact in the world—and at the very least bring about a little more peace and civility in our own relationships.