It’s hard not to feel vindicated at the news that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — the woman who called for constant harassment of Trump officials — has received a death threat. There’s a kind of justice there, but it’s the wrong kind. Waters was wrong to do what she did, but that does not make it right for someone to threaten her life. It’s hard not to feel vindicated, but we have to oppose political violence and champion civility.
It also makes a perverse kind of sense that liberals rushed to blame President Donald Trump for the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis on Thursday. They were fundamentally wrong to do so, and it became clear the shooter was motivated by a defamation lawsuit, not political animus against the mainstream media.
Trump derangement syndrome is destroying America’s civility, but both sides need to resist the urge to demonize the other. The Bible presents an excellent call to civility that our country sorely needs right now.
Conservatives have every right to feel embattled. Hillary Clinton attacked Trump supporters as “deplorables,” and celebrity after celebrity — and news outlet after news outlet — has continued to echo that charge. Just this week, an op-ed in The New York Times defended constant harassment of Trump officials on the grounds that Trump is a “professional racist.”
Meanwhile, folks like Bill Nye have insisted that older people need to die so that liberals can get their way on climate change. Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is branding mainstream conservative groups “hate groups” on the level of the Ku Klux Klan, and powerful tech companies and the media are blindly following suit. The group’s “hate map” directly inspired one terrorist attack, and the man who shot Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) last year “liked” the SPLC page on Facebook.
At the same time, conservatives are defending a president who encouraged supporters at rallies to “rough up” protesters in the crowd. Trump rightly calls mainstream media outlets out on their fake news attacks against him, but his supporters have gone overboard in anti-media hysteria. Recently, Trump crowds told CNN’s Jim Acosta to “go home!” Worse, Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos actually called for reporters to be shot — he claims to have been “trolling,” and that makes sense from him, but this “trolling” went way too far.
Conservatives chose Trump as their champion party because they thought he would be a tank, smashing though political correctness to deliver much-needed culture war wins. He has done that, but that does not justify his inciting rhetoric. He seems to have toned it down a bit since the election, but he needs to keep doing so.
Both conservatives and liberals feel like aliens in their own country, and they have reasons to feel that way. The Bible speaks directly to this situation in many places, and Americans need to listen.
When the Jews were defeated by the empire of Babylon and taken into exile, they didn’t want to assimilate. But the Prophet Jeremiah gave them some very sound advice, straight from the mouth of God. “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” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Jesus echoed similar statements when the Pharisees came to tempt him. The Jews were once again oppressed under the Romans, and many looked to Jesus as a potential political leader for a revolution. The Pharisees asked Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to an oppressive pagan king.
Famously, Jesus pointed out Caesar’s inscription on the coin to be paid in taxes. He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). This wasn’t just a clever response — Jesus was telling His followers to submit to ruling authorities, but to give fundamental allegiance to something higher, to God.
This dual loyalty is extremely important. In modern politics, the Left has led (and the Right has followed) in the quest to turn everything into a power game. Language itself is deconstructed, and identity politics pushes for allegedly oppressed groups to rise up and level the playing field. This is why some feminists have rejected science and objective truth as a hidden tool to oppress women. This is also why social justice warriors (SJWs) feel justified in tearing down historical monuments. If everything is power, history itself is part of the “oppressive” nexus.
To the Left, nothing is sacred from politics, and so it is only natural that in protesting Trump’s immigration policies, liberals decided to kick Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of a restaurant and harass Kirstjen Nielsen with loud noises to keep her up all night. If politics becomes your god, then you will worship your god at all costs.
Jews and Christians were called never to do this. God punished the Jews for putting their faith in the armies of allies rather than in God’s saving power (2 Chronicles 16:7-1)). The Apostle Peter encouraged Christians to live “as sojourners and exiles” by abstaining “from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
He also urged Christians to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
After the Apostle Paul called on the Christians in Rome to not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” he urged them to “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight” (Romans 12:2, 14-16).
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'” (Romans 2:18-19). He encouraged Christians to “overcome evil with good.”
All this echoes Jesus’ most famous moral teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus encourages His followers to love even their enemies. In the context of evangelism, Peter wrote it best: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, but do so with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good name in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16, emphasis added).
Ever since the harassment of Sarah Huckabee Sanders sparked a conversation about civility, liberals have complained that civility is demanded of them but not of conservatives. Both sides need to learn civility, and the Bible is an excellent place to learn what it means.
Civility means respecting other people. St. Paul put it well in Philippians 2, when he encouraged Christians to mimic the humility of Christ. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
To my Trump-supporting friends who want to steamroll the liberals, this does not mean that we don’t advocate for what we believe in. Jesus wasn’t some boring dove who never stood for anything: He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple and He deftly parried all attempts to ensnare Him in traps, from the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots. Jesus was the consummate victor over political correctness long before Donald Trump drew his first breath.
But Jesus did not advocate violence against anyone, and He urged His disciples to wish the best for their enemies. When a man (Saul) went around trying to kill Jesus’ disciples, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and made him one of the most effective leaders in world history, the Apostle Paul.
Wishing the best for your enemies doesn’t mean wanting them to prevail, but wanting them to repent. I must restrain myself from hating the Southern Poverty Law Center, and rather pray that it would repent of its slanderous attacks and become a better organization. I must restrain myself from feeling vindicated when Maxine Waters receives a death threat.
Civility is hard, but it is worth it. If Americans can learn to stop harassing and threatening one another, but to outdo one another in good, it will benefit everyone. The best way to convince a liberal that you aren’t racist is to befriend your black neighbors. The best way for liberals to convince conservatives that they don’t hate them is to make friends, and be willing to learn from one another.
Instead, liberals and conservatives demonize one another and get drawn ever deeper into animosity and hatred. It may be impossible to stop this cycle, but we must strive against it.
C.S. Lewis warned against “the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible.” He wrote that, “If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”
On the flip-side, choosing love and civility can start on the smallest of levels: restraining yourself from posting a nasty comment on Facebook, going out of your way to actually learn someone’s name, asking deep questions to learn about someone and how they see the world.
If you suspend judgment and engage with someone who disagrees with you, you might just learn something. Even better, you could end up with a friend.