I have been reading a biography of Martin Luther over the past couple of weeks. Luther was quite blunt in his correspondence and conversation with others. The author of the biography, Eric Metaxas, makes reference to Luther as having a “tremendously direct and undiplomatic German fashion”. He also quotes Luther at some points using some very crude language and calling people “dogs” and the like. There is much that I have admired about Luther over the years, but this is a side that I have to admit is not all that attractive. This is the sinful side of him. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because we are all human, and so we all have our sins.
I share this anecdote about Luther because I am noticing that some of the same thing is happening in the larger political discourse in our generation both in the US and in Canada. Likely it has been with us throughout the ages. That said, as our leaders ask for cooperation in the effort to ‘flatten the curve’, many are responding in protest. Sadly some have resorted to assigning motives, calling people names, putting labels on people and using some very colorful though inappropriate language.
For example, in some of the discussions, I am hearing accusations that our leaders are dictators. That the Prime Minister, Premiers, Governors etc, are simply out for power. Some people have even accused them of being “fascist”. Now I have my own opinions about our government leaders, but to be clear, there is a huge difference between accusing someone of making decisions that are unnecessary or overly burdensome versus accusing someone of being a dictator.
Likewise, to accuse someone of trying to intentionally harm or shut down any one particular industry is not helpful at all. In fact it is unloving. Do we really know that that is what they are trying to do? We should never assume the negative about anyone. Tim Challies, a relatively famous blogger, wrote in one of his posts that “It is sinful to assume bad motives; it is sinful to not assume good motives.” So are the politicians trying to help people and flatten the curve, or are they really out to get us or acquire more power?
What is actually most interesting about the debate is what it is revealing. When a person accuses a political leader of being a dictator, it tells me a lot. I don’t learn anything about the political leader through the accusation. But I do learn a lot about the person who made the accusation. First off, I learn that they are not having a healthy debate on issues. By abandoning the issue and making assumptions about motive and calling people names, they show their lack of maturity. Secondly, I learn that this person is obviously hurt or unhappy about something that has happened. In other words, the person making the accusation exposes their own disappointment and embarrasses themselves in the process. In other words, the accuser has a problem. It has been said that “what Suzy says about Sally, says more about Suzy then about Sally.” What a true statement that is.
As followers of Jesus, we have an opportunity to raise the bar on the level of discourse taking place. If we don’t like a decision, then we should focus on that decision and ask for clarification. If we don’t like the clarification, then we should challenge the decision. In other words we should stick to the issue at hand and not resort to personal attacks. We should also never assume that someone has negative intentions. In 1 Corinthians 13 part of the definition of love is that “it believes all things”. What that means is that we should think of and assume the best of people. So to assume something negative about someone is to violate the principle of love, and in so doing, we sin. So let’s not negatively characterize people, label them, assume motives or call names. James helps us in this as well when in chapter four he writes “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it” (see James 4:11-12).
The challenge now is to live this out. In the larger political discussion, we can argue the issues and in so doing still glorify Jesus. We just have to keep from making it personal. In our personal relationships, we can apply these same lessons, and in so doing show love to others, each of whom are made in the image of God. Our love towards others shows the world who we are and who our God is. As John has told us: “They will know us by our love” (see I John 3).