Each month, I write a column for Baptist News Global. This August 2016 piece grew out of my frustrations with the malicious political yammering that had been filling my news feeds and from a Bible study my pastor, Dr. Jim McCoy, led at First Baptist Church Weaverville.
“So Aunt Wilma? Who do you want for president?”
It was an election year; I was a sophomore in college and politics had been my primary extracurricular activity. I enjoyed debating the issues, discussing solutions and following political trends. Aunt Wilma, my grandfather’s octogenarian sister, was a retired high school Latin teacher married to a retired Emory University political science professor. Highly intelligent and fiercely opinionated, Aunt Wilma had surely assessed the candidates and made an informed decision about who our next president should be. I wanted to hear her thoughts.
“Young lady!” Her retort was swift and fiery. “That is none of your business! We do not talk about such things.” Ouch! Clearly, my great-aunt did not consider politics an appropriate topic for polite conversation.
I often wonder, since my dear Aunt Wilma found my long-ago inquiry disrespectful, what in the world would she think of the bitter and abusive nature of today’s news and social media? In truth, we exceeded the boundaries of polite conversation long before this election year even began.
In fact, our political discourse these days is just plain nasty and it’s caused me to wonder: can Baptists be both committed to the message of Christ and active in political matters? It certainly hasn’t seemed like it to me. When I read election coverage, I don’t at all feel as if I’m becoming more like Christ. I feel self-righteous, indignant and superior. Then I feel guilty, frustrated and hopeless.
Thankfully, I got some answers just this past week in Wednesday night Bible study. My pastor, Dr. Jim McCoy, drawing on the research of Duke University Divinity School professor Luke Bretherton, pointed to the truth found in Jeremiah, chapter 29.
At this point in the text, Jeremiah is delivering a message to the people of the Babylonian Exile. He tells them that God is calling them to settle in the region. “Go ahead and get married,” Jeremiah says. “Buy a house. Join the PTA, the YMCA, a local church.” Essentially, Jeremiah says, “Be all in. Hold nothing back.”
And then in verse 7, God (through Jeremiah) says this to the people, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Did you get that? God says to those captured by Babylon, “Get to know your captors. Make them your very own family. Then, do what’s best for Babylon; pray for them; for what is best for Babylon, is best for you.” Babylon was the enemy! That’s crazy! Just imagine saying to a marriage equality group, “Join Westboro Baptist Church! Go to Sunday school and Wednesday night fellowship dinners. Seek the welfare of your new church home and do what’s best for them.” Or to a Trump supporter, “Move to the border and build a bridge of fellowship, not a wall of exclusion. Find out what needs undocumented workers have and seek solutions.” It’s counter-intuitive at the very least.
But what if we did follow that direction? What if we did truly seek the welfare of the city? We might just begin to see others with the eyes of Christ. We might seek to understand, to reconcile, to appreciate. We might work for clean water, safe streets, better schools, healthy local businesses. Truly, if we put Jeremiah’s direction into practice consistently, I believe politics could become hopeful and encouraging, instead of hateful and destructive.
And that kind of political discussion wouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Even to Aunt Wilma.
I’ve just about had it with this campaign season, in large part because social media is ratcheting up the nastiness to ridiculous levels. Memes are everywhere, as if somehow it becomes okay to say something flippant or mean if it’s accompanied by a cute animal, a famous face, or a cleverly drawn cartoon. How in the world will we make it through to November if our collective behavior continues to plummet below what used to be considered common decency (or—ya know—good manners)?
It’s out of absolute self-preservation that I offer a few tips about social media and politics. (Don’t have time to read the whole post? Then here’s the short version: Be Nice.)
Bottom line: let’s play nicely with one another. It makes for a better world.
What about you? What guidelines do you suggest?
I’ve gotten inordinately distracted by this year’s presidential campaign. I’ve always been interested in politics, so it’s not surprising that I’m following the election news. But this year, there’s not as much campaign news as there is petty filth and drivel. The offensive nature of the 2016 US election is very literally making me sick.
I messaged my sister to commiserate. Here’s a snippit of that conversation (condensed for the purpose of this post).
ME: I'm so upset about this dadgum election. I think way too much about it.
MY SISTER: Take a break. I had to.
ME: It makes me so mad. My stomach is upset; I feel like I’m about to cry over it all the time. It is just so upsetting! The fact that the people of this nation are drawn to the theatrics and that other candidates are picking up such tacky behavior . . . I can't stand it.
MY SISTER: Aileen. You know that you have to stop.
ME: How do you get away from it though? It’s on the news, on Twitter, everywhere.
MY SISTER: It wraps you up in pain and renders you impotent.
MY SISTER: You can't be involved in politics the way you want to if you are in this much pain. Do some sort of news blackout. Not a long time. A day? Could you do that?
ME: Yes probably. I have to do something to get it out of my head. This is seriously sickening.
MY SISTER: You are no good in this state.
ME: But I’d rather do something to improve the national mood. To make this better.
MY SISTER: YOU do help. All the time. Don't lose yourself in it. You really, really can help. The WORLD.
Her words got me thinking. See, I was going to post about my frustrations and concerns regarding the negativity swirling around the country. But as we were chatting, I realized that everything I have to say on this has already been said, reworded, and said again. People who will listen, have. Those who won’t, aren’t going to change their thoughts because of my opinion. So what to do?
I heard a quote on NPR’s Politics Podcast this week that seems appropriate here:
Never wrestle with a hog because you’ll both get dirty and the hog will like it.
So I’m staying out of this nasty mess. And instead of adding to a fight that is already spewing filth on anyone who gets near it, I’m going to keep trying to put some good into the world.
What about you? What good thing will you add to your world this week?
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior:
Ask yourself what you want people to do for you;
then grab the initiative and do it for them!”
Luke 6:31 The Message