I can still vividly remember my first encounter with the overwhelming cruelty of violence. I must have been in third or fourth grade and was on the playground during recess, when I saw a few boys playing baseball. I walked over and was horrified to discover that they were using a frog as the ball. After the bell rang and everyone ran back into the building, I found the frog’s lifeless body, sat down beside it, and cried. I can still remember thinking, “why would anyone cause pain to another living creature for no reason?”
Fast forward with me a few years and I can also remember playing basketball in the gym during my seventh-grade year. A taller and stronger classmate had been fouling me pretty hard when a friend of mine whispered in my ear, “you really should punch that guy.” So, the next time he fouled me, I turned around and punch him in the face. Then he shoved me down and pummeled me until a teacher broke things up. It still haunts me that I never even asked him to stop fouling me before I resorted to violence.
Since that time, I’ve seen many more senseless acts of physical violence and emotional force; from the playground to the classroom, from the battlefield to the board room, and all to frequently I’ve seen myself tempted in the rooms of my own home. I most frequently resort to emotional force when my wife and I are in an argument and I realize I’m not going to be able to make her see things my way through reason. In those moments I search for hurtful words that I think will force her to realize that I’m right.
I’m thankful that my wife and I have never resorted to physical violence, but that does happen all to often in homes around the world. Reason fails, emotional force fails, and people resort to physical violence. Many across the country have been watching the Netflix series Waco, which graphically depicts the tragic outcome of this cycle on a bigger scale. The FBI loses it’s patience with the use of reason during negotiations, first they turn to emotional force through psychological warfare by blaring horrific sounds throughout the night, and then physical violence by using tanks to fill the compound with CS gas.
This same cycle of a failure to reason leading to the use of force can be seen playing out in different ways across the social and political spectrums of our culture. Socially it can be seen everyday on Facebook as you log on and see friends and family members engage in conversations which rarely go beyond an initial statement of one’s beliefs and then go directly to insults and innuendos. I’m sure this comes as no shock to anyone. I’m sure we’ve all seen this trend playing out for years across our timelines, but what should be shocking is the way this social trend is continuing to influence our political behavior.
I saw a stunning example of this influence recently when Albert Mohler, an extremely influential figure in the evangelical church, who less than four years ago had this to say about voting for president Trump, “Is it worth destroying our moral credibility to support someone who is beneath the baseline level of human decency for anyone who should deserve our vote?” reverse his decision and now suggests that it is imperative that Christians vote for Trump. And the only explanation given is how consistent the president has been in his judicial nominations and how it is now more important than ever before to gain an ideological hold on the courts.
This is not how the American religious or political system was designed to function. I won’t get into the destruction of the “moral credibility” that Mohler foretold, and has come to pass, regarding religious leaders and institutions that have continued to defend the president no matter what level of cruelty, dishonesty, ignorance, or arrogance he displays. But fighting to force your will on those you disagree with through the nomination of like-minded Supreme Court justices undermines the very fabric of the judiciary.
Our political system was designed and built to facilitate the wielding of power through the use of reason by the entire population. Giving up reason and forcing your will is a form of violence designed to negate, not just the will, but also the value of your opponents. These tactics are dreadfully similar to those used throughout the history of our nation to diminish the voices of minorities, women, and the poor. It is my desire that Christian men and women around our nation will see the unfortunate hypocrisy of many religious leaders and institutions and learn from their mistakes.
I hope that we can begin to see the trickle up effect that giving in to small forms of violence has had on our culture over time, and realize that if we don’t it will inevitably lead to physical violence. I hope that we can see how seemingly insignificant acts like not truly listening to someone on Facebook, or “debating by meme” as I like to call it, can cause us to slowly pull away from diverse community organizations or be drawn to groups with people who think more like us. And how over time that has caused us to be less patient with one another and less willing to use reason rather than force in our political decision making. Political decision like the tearing of the state of the union speech, or the presidents declaration that he has the “ultimate authority” to force his will, and countless acts in between.
I know that many people feel that remaining faithful to a patient and continued use of reason, rather than using emotional force or physical violence is the same as, or nearly the same as, doing nothing. My response to that sentiment has two parts, first we see Christ as an example of someone refusing to use emotional force or physical violence in his opposition to the ever present darkness of his age, and secondly I can think of no better words than those used by Brad East in his article Politics on the Pattern of the Martyrs when he said, “Because Christians remain as engaged as ever, even to the point of laying down their lives, only without the vices that attend a realized eschatology (activism absent resurrection): the desperate need to win, the entitled expectation of success, the assumption of God’s approval, the forgetfulness of sin, (and) the recourse to evil means for good ends.”