Some days I can hardly bear to turn on the computer. It has long since replaced the TV as my main source of news, though I still stick to NPR in the car. But the computer has become a minefield. A third of the email are appeals for action, mostly from causes or candidates I believe in, asking for money, time, or a signature on a petition. But I hate those that say, “I wanted to be sure you saw this email from Mr. Big we sent two hours ago, it is SO important!” Until tomorrow’s even MORE important deadline or crisis. My Facebook feed is a maze of news stories with headlines designed to punch my buttons, and get me to click through. Yet I do, and then I have to heed my own advice, “Do not read the comments, Do NOT read the comments!” If I don’t follow that common sense, my blood starts to boil at the totally lame, stupid, or grossly false stuff posted there. I’m hooked. I’m sunk. I’m a bit more mental carrion being picked clean by bots and trolls.
So maybe I should do something! How about I write a clear, factual, totally-logical-Mr.-Spock, refutation! Something fit for the New York Times letter section, now to be posted on thread 17 of 2.8K of Tuesday’s responses to Joe’s re-posting of that Vice article! A citation from Snopes, a good Bible verse, a nod to interfaith sensibilities, a hook each for Left and Right, and end with a quote from GK Chesterton ought to do it. Four hours later, and Hit Post! Eight hours after that: four Likes, one Smiley Face, a link to a cat video, and no comments. That was a good use of time, mental energy, righteous anger and stomach acid!
In a society that the Powers that Be want chopped up into ever smaller, ever angrier, ever less powerful clans, tribes and interests, small enough to be targeted with ads, memes and base fear, working together in coalitions becomes harder and harder -- in a society where every debate is totalized into Good and Evil, nuance is eliminated, and the ability to grant that there may be facts and views we do not understand, daring to even talk to our neighbors feels like betrayal of our side -- in a society where the Winner Takes All, a two percent margin is taken as a mandate to dictate to the other 48 percent, and compromise is viewed as flip-flopping or even betrayal... working for a vision of the greater good becomes nigh well impossible. Which is just fine with the Powers, having divided and conquered.
There has to be a better way. And, at its best, the church is one structure for creating it. A core ministry of the church is reconciliation,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:17-19)
This is reconciliation with God, but implicit is reconciliation on all other levels as well. Divine reconciliation leads to reconciliation with self, neighbor, environment, and even the enemy. When sin – estrangement, fear, division, broken relationship, self-serving – is resolved, that enables people to reconnect at the levels of care and concern that matter. Church creates a space for wildly diverse people to come together amid their differences of perspectives, opinions, experiences and values, for the unity comes not at the human level of civic agreement but at the divine level that all are baptized into the one Christ and reconciled with the one God. Community is a gracious given, not a politically generated polis. It is “from God.”
Not that it is simple to live out together. The New Testament is filled with community norms like, “Speak the truth in love,” “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry,” “Do not let your good be spoken of as evil,” “Do not set a stumbling stone for your weaker sibling,” “The greatest of you must be the servant of all,” and of course, “Love your neighbor… and your enemy… as your self.” Life together gives us plenty of opportunity to practice these virtues!
This is one of the reasons Plymouth is hosting a pair of “Better Angels” programs this week. When I convened a team last summer to consider our Visiting Scholar program for this year, they very quickly identified the key issue to address as the polarization of our country and our decreasing ability to communicate civilly across significant social and political divides. They considered a variety of speakers and programs, and settled on this because of its practical, hands-on, participatory approach. They didn’t feel like we really needed someone right now to give us a brilliant lecture on faith and civic virtues, but that we needed the chance to practice talking to our families and neighbors who had very different views than we. We will have future Visiting Scholar programs that are traditional lectures and workshops, but for this year we are using the Better Angels program.
Better Angels is a citizens’ organization uniting red (ie. conservative/libertarian) and blue (ie liberal/progressive) Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. Their vision says:
Engaging the church’s ministry of reconciliation is a far better use of time and spirit than falling down the rabbit hole of a social media comment thread or drafting the perfect rebuttal that vanishes into the ether. I hope you will look to the church as a field to practice your skills at listening, at speaking your truth care-full-ly, and at being able to live with the discomfort of having people you love disagree with you. We won’t always succeed, we may well fail spectacularly, but we’ll still be better than a comment thread on Politico!
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
Director of Christian Formation (Adults)
The Rev. Dr. Mark Lee brings a passion for Christian education that bears fruit in social justice. He has had a lifelong fascination with theology, with a particular emphasis on how Biblical hermeneutics shape personal and political action. Read more about Mark.