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Christian Nationalism #4
Five Principles for Discerning the News - cont'd
(Principles 3 – 5)
In my early blog post, I talked about the first two principles. Now I will continue with #3,#4, and #5.
One of the myths that exist in any situation of conflict is the over-estimation of the opponent. I remember some years ago when I was working for a group that was advocating for affordable housing in the City of Chicago. We had put together a loose coalition of people and groups that had very little internal cohesion, but who were willing to tolerate each other for the common purpose of this effort. Perhaps I exaggerate, but this was no unified front. As I talked with the city officials – people who were well educated and pleasant people – they clearly communicated that they knew our ulterior motives: namely, to undermine and defeat the political career of the current mayor. We were the enemy, and all they saw was a powerful and unified front that stood in opposition to everything that they cared about (at least from a political point of view).
This was perhaps the clearest personal experience that I have had of a phenomenon that I observe happening with increasing frequency: the idea that we are under siege by a powerful enemy that wants to destroy us. It also allows us to look beyond the current issue at conflict and see the real battle as some sort of cosmic struggle of good vs. evil. This is really a problem because it prevents us from engaging in healthy dialogue over important civic issues. How can we talk about healthcare reform when the real agenda is the imposition of a dystopian Brave New World? Civic discourse stops and civil war begins.
The way out of this morass is to better understand those who disagree with us. I have been fortunate in living at various times on both sides of the Left/Right divide in our country. The Left is as diverse as the Right. In fact, those labels are actually not helpful. There are a few dedicated Marxists out there, but they are not powerful. The largest group of progressives is well-meaning people who have no other agenda than the actual issue for which they are advocating. The Left, like the Right, is fluid, and alliances change depending on the issue at hand. The same for the Right. Left-wing anxieties about some sort of theocratic Handmaiden’s Tale society are nonsense, yet the myth exists. The dedicated extremists, either Left or Right, are few, yet they feed into the false narrative. Most political disagreement is just people like us disagreeing.
There has been a breakdown in how we get information from trusted sources. Thirty years ago, we had local newspapers and three television stations whose editors served as a filter for the information that we received. Some of us who were particularly curious would subscribe to the Atlantic or Wilson Quarter and get more of an inside scoop on things. That is no longer the case. Today there are many sources, most of which are not completely reliable. One of the greatest dangers that I have heard through these new media sources is the anecdotal story that reinforces a political narrative. I will give an example:
During the 2016 election year, there were numerous stories of “caravans” of illegal immigrants invading the United States, and embedded within these caravans were Al-Qaeda operatives (or perhaps ISIS, take your pick). People I know and respect would repeat the story as if it were true. Often they were uncertain of where they heard it, but it was true none-the-less. When it was pointed out that the U.S. was at an historic low mark for illegal immigration, the fact was dismissed as untrue. When it was pointed out that the Muslim population of Mexico was relatively small, it was dismissed as untrue. Only the overarching narrative was true, and contrary facts were rejected or simply not heard.
We need to become better editors of our news. We need to know the difference between reliable sources and sources that are engaged in political propaganda. Because this is difficult, perhaps the best approach is to be a news skeptic. Information given during the standard news programs is more reliable than those given by “opinion hosts.” Most of these hosts are considered entertainment by the broadcast company, and are thus held to a much lower standard when it comes to reliability. Know that stories are promoted to further political interests.
I believe that the crisis in the church today is one of faith. For some reason, we now doubt that God is truly in control of events. During times of genuine persecution of the church, the saints of old held forth, firm in their faith. To accept martyrdom was the ultimate statement of God’s being in control. The body they may kill, but God’s kingdom will prevail. And it did prevail.
The desperate grasp for political power by many Evangelicals is the exact opposite of the witness of the martyrs. The Evangelical political agenda has the underlying assumption that God is not in control, and God needs us to re-establish control. God needs us to fix the problems in society. And we can best fix those problems by exercising power over others: We need Christian judges to mandate morality upon a restive population. We need legislation to enforce our moral preferences.
A healthier and more Biblical way of advocating for change is to win the hearts and minds of the people. Every significant social change in our society has happened not through the political power of a few, but by the changes within the broad public. The fight for civil rights took more than 100 years following the Civil War, but changed only happened when the country was ready for the change. The forces of segregation lost the public moral argument on a bridge in Selma. We may not win every argument, but we should never believe that God requires us to use force to enact his will on earth.