Does Your Politics Cause You to Sin?

"Hell No!" ...oops.

I've been teaching Galatians for the past three months to my sub-congregation at church. More on that in a later post. But in the midst of my blog's focus recently on our country's political bickering over health care, and whether or not "Social Justice" is evil code for socialism (along with all the other fun from Glenn Beck), a quote from Scot McKnight's commentary on Galatians jumped out at me:
Paul says literally (in Galatians 515): “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Technically, Paul could have said: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, you will be destroyed by each other.” The addition of “watch out for” puts emphasis, emotionally, on the sin. The problem of the Galatians is typically human: egos enter into the debates between people and before long the issue is who is going to win; it becomes who is right, not what is right.

This was a reminder to me, a sinner, that what's important in having fellowship with Christians is to have civility in our debates. The "typical human" problem for all of us is this: More important than humbly seeking "what is right," is to be the one "who is right."

This, sadly, is one of the worst besetting sins of evangelicals (of whom I am one). We are so enamored with being right that we do not listen to others' insights, especially if we have successfully labeled them in a category that we can dismiss outright.

If you can label people something that disparages them, you can go ahead and devour them with your words. This comes from both sides of the political spectrum, which uses terms like these:
  • "liberal" or "fundamentalist,"
  • "radical gay agenda" or "homophobe,"
  • "baby killer" or "anti-choice,"
  • "socialist" or "obstructionist."
I'm sure you can add to this list.

I certainly do not expect our politicians and cable news pundits to live up to Christian virtue in their dealing with their opposition (even those that confess a Christian faith have showed that their hypocrisy is the norm, not the exception). It is readily apparent that what is more important to politicians in today's contentious congress is that they oppose the opposite party, instead of seeking what is right, they want to be seen as who is right (and I'm talking about both the Republicans and the Democrats here).

But in the fellowship of Christians, as we discuss the important issues of our day, we need to be careful of how we treat each other.

We need to check our egos at the door, decide to humbly enter into dialog, and (even while holding fast to our convictions) be willing to accept that, yes, at times, we may need to change our minds. Can we let go of our need to be right all the time?


porter said...

check your ego at the good friday door. As the beloved we should not compete with the almighty ego.

Michael Kruse said...

C. S. Lewis wrote an essay on "Bulverism." Ezekiel Bulver was five years old when he heard his father trying to explain to his mother that the hypotenuse of right triangle will always be the longest side of triangle. In frustration, his mother declared, "You just say that because you're a man!" That ended the argument. At that moment young Ezekiel realized it was not necessary to debate the actual substance of a disagreement. You simply state your view and then declare how your opponent become so silly/ evil, making their stupidity/malice the subject of the debate.

I think it is impossible to dialog without making some internal assessment as to what motives you think may be driving your opponent but the objective is to keep the focus on the issue under consideration and begin by assuming positive intent. I don't remember where the motto came from but I like the idea that,"I'm willing to have many opponents but insofar as it depends on me, I will have no enemies."

Bob Robinson said...

Amen to that!

Bob Robinson said...

Great insights there. Isn't it sad that our public discourse has deteriorated down to this? And isn't it sadder still that Christians have been sucked into this kind of vitriol?

Byron Harvey said...

Good post, Bob, and good words, Michael. I do not, though, think all political terminology is equal. Yes, 'baby-killer' is out of line, and 'fundamentalist' is used as a pejorative to ridicule rather than an accurate description made knowledgeably. But that said, there are other words---and I'd use 'liberal' and 'conservative' as two instances---which effectively define a person's basic political orientation, and I see nothing wrong with using them so long as we are careful not to pigeonhole someone into a positive he/she might not hold on the basis of the label. It'd be hard to have much discourse without certain "shortcut words", so long as those words aren't used pejoratively. Nancy Pelosi is a liberal; Tom Coburn is a conservative; I'm more libertarian. Nobody is harmed in using terms such as those, nor, IMHO, is civil discourse dampened. Yes, those terms can be employed with obvious disgust, but I'm not sure that's too problematic. More important is representing the words/thoughts of others accurately, it seems to me, regardless of the verbiage (within bounds, of course).