Last weekend in Arizona a very disturbed young man sprayed a crowd with gunfire, injuring and killing many people. We pray for the swift recovery of Rep. Giffords and the others injured, and we grieve with the families who lost loved ones.
Shortly after the shooting, cynical politicians began blaming tea party activists--conservatives in general and Sarah Palin in particular--for inciting a climate of violence. Now polls show that almost half of Americans believe that heated political language was somehow responsible for inciting the shooter.
Of course, the evidence belies this explanation: the shooter in question seems to have intended to harm Rep. Giffords as far back as 2007, before the tea party movement even existed, and his influences ranged from the Communist Manifesto (the radical socialist left) to Mein Kampf (the deranged totalitarian left).
Still, the shocking incident in Arizona left me reflecting. Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue has the power of life and death, and that those who love it will eat its fruit. When I communicate my convictions, am I communicating life?
Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines "hate" as "To dislike greatly; to have a great aversion to." Throughout history leaders have expressed hate in a way that drove their followers to murderous fury. William Brennan demonstrated in Dehumanizing the Vulnerable that leaders planning genocide usually portray their victims as less-than-human to ease the guilt of those who subsequently massacre them. It happened in Nazi Germany and in the Rwandan genocide and, according to Brennan, it is happening in the abortion debate today.
Increasingly, hateful rhetoric is used to demonize Christian expressions in the public square. I've been the victim of some of these attacks, and they're so unfair that it is hard to not "dislike greatly, or have a great aversion to," my antagonists. I want to lash out using language and arguments that I would surely not like to have used against myself.
In a climate of anger, accusation, bitterness, and cynicism, what standard should we hold ourselves to when we communicate what we believe and what we see as the state of our culture?
Followers of Christ are called to be his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). The hallmark of an ambassador is that he puts his king's views and interests ahead of his own. His words and tone are seen as representing the wishes of the king.
As Christ's ambassadors, we are tasked with the message and ministry of reconciliation. How can we communicate this message and share this ministry more faithfully in the realm of public and civic discourse?
Here are some questions to help you faithfully represent the interests of your king:
True power lies in disciplined maturity. Proverbs 16:32 says that the one who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit better than one who takes a city.
Disciplined maturity calls for engagement, not surrender, in the face of injustice. Consider the moving example of Olympic hero and World War II Japanese P.O.W. Louie Zamparini, beautifully recorded by Laura Hillenbrand in her best-selling book, Unbroken. As a prisoner, Louie was singled out for brutal treatment at the hands of a sadistic commandant. After the war, Louie's hatred of his tormentor nearly tore him apart, but he experienced a Christian conversion and wrote the man a letter:
As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare... [which] caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, "Forgive your enemies and pray for them."
As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison.... At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.
Louie spoke the truth about his torturer's crimes, yet he also spoke the truth about redemption. To speak one truth without the other is to speak less than the whole truth. We will experience unfair attacks, but as ambassadors of Christ let us speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God.
Make it a great week,
Dr. Jeff Myers