Is It Really “Us” Versus “Them?”

I am a political junkie. Part of my rationalization for my vice is that, as a pastor, if I am going to be relevant in the real world I need to be aware of what is going on. I tend to be a small is better kind of guy when it comes to my views on the reach of government and institutions. One good friend commented a couple of weeks ago that I really am an institutional anarchist as we discussed denominational frustrations. By that he meant that I was far too willing to just blow up structures and start over versus adopting a slow, incremental change strategy to institutional development.

So I read way too many newspapers and I probably spend too much time reading current events news sites. I have always felt a responsibility to read opinions and position papers from advocates on both sides of an issue before I make up my mind. I like to gather and reflect over competing papers. I feel like, perhaps, my final positions have a little more integrity than simply going along with the political group think. I read progressive and conservative sites, liberal, centrist, and fundamentalist contributors. Sometimes I read gritting my teeth, but I read on regardless. I don’t want to suggest that I am somehow more informed or more enlightened in my final positions. I can still get it wrong. But I detest reading for confirmation. I think we are better than that.

Having said all this, still my reading leaves me increasingly sad these days. Not because of the variety of positions. Not because of the stridency or the tone that the authors and commentators take. I am increasingly aware of the polarization of our national conversation. I am struck by the perceived need to do away with nuance in our position casting. We are being given binary choices. We seem to need to demonize the opposition. Is that really all there is?

For example, is it really true that ALL Democrats believe (and then you can fill in the blank)? Are we supposed to believe that ALL Republicans are (again, fill in the blank)? I used to call people out on that on Facebook. But I was dismissed and my desire for doing away with the “us” versus “them” language was cast as unimportant.

Friends, I ask you to consider the following. Would our national conversation be more credible if we said some Republicans, or even many Republicans, believe (fill in the blank)? Would we have more integrity if we granted the possibility that not all Democrats are logged into some kind of monolithic political group think?

I know it take a little extra time. I know that it might reduce some of the power of our argument if we allow for the possibility that those with whom we disagree actually are well intentioned individuals who simply hold a different conviction. I think we actually gain credibility for our position if we grant good will to “the other side.”

Call me naive. Call me Pollyanna, that’s okay. I can’t help but think we could do better. We have to do better.

Nothing Much Has Changed

Have you ever thought about why you don’t have to teach your children how to be bad? Why is it that obedience has to be learned, but disobedience comes naturally? If you put a vase on the table and say, “Don’t touch.” What’s the one thing your child wants to do? That’s because we are born with a nature that wants to make its own decisions about what is right and wrong. We chafe under the notion that some outside force – even our Creator, even God – could tell us what is right and wrong.

It is ironic to me, that even though we continue to progress as a people; even as we continue under the notion that somehow the essential nature of humankind is improving; the reality of sinfulness is unchanged………………….

Friends, it is hard to deny the reality of sin. Augustine, in the fourth century, identified pride as being at the core of sin. A ninth grader, in a confirmation class I taught named Diana Richards, gave the best working definition I have ever heard. Sin is an overwhelming slavery to self-centeredness.

That self-centeredness, that conviction that WE should determine ultimate right from ultimate wrong is at the core of brokenness that has infused our world. We don’t have to teach brokenness and rebellion – we simply are.

But God – the same God who created us out of love, who created us out of a desire for relationship – that God is not content to leave us in the midst of that brokenness, that sin that we have chosen for ourselves. God sends to us the Holy Spirit – to remind us, to encourage us, to convict us. God raises up men and women, children and youth of faith who serves as exemplars for us. We are so much stronger together than when we are left to our own.

Friends, God has come to be amongst us in Jesus Christ. To demonstrate for us in person what right living looks like. To demonstrate the power of acknowledging that there is a God in heaven, and we are not that God. To demonstrate to us the viability, the meaningfulness, the joy that comes from living within God’s design for life.

But most importantly, Jesus has come – as a gift of grace – to make possible our return to the relationship with God for which we were created in the first place. In that relationship is freedom – tremendous freedom – to be all that we can be in Christ.