I just finished watching a YouTube video that left me shaking my head. It featured persons in Johnstown, PA entering a rally with one of the vice presidential candidates screaming epithets at a group of supporters of the other candidate. The language was coarse, and the sentiments shared played upon all sorts of stereotypes. Although the video focused on the comments from one side of the street, I have little doubt that folks on the other side of the street had their own words to say.
I have no doubt that many of these people, in the privacy of their homes, are good people. I have little doubt that many of them regularly attend church, and that they are sincere in the their love of country and their pursuit of the right thing.
What worries me is how out of touch they are with the teachings of Jesus.
It may be that these persons are appealing to the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament, becoming modern day Elijahs who are attempting to call the nation to faithfulness. Yet, while the rhetoric of the prophets might seem pointed and inflammatory, the fact remains that the prophetic call to faithfulness was always directed in the pursuit of justice for the oppressed, something that most of these modern day commentators seem to avoid.
It may be that they feel that their speech is the equivalent of Christ’s cleansing of the temple, an angry rant against those who perverted God’s house. Yet again, to do so is to fail to recognize the motivation behind what Christ was doing, and to ignore the fact that Jesus’ wrath in scripture was never directed toward governmental authorities or Caesar, but rather toward the religious structures of his day.
The fact remains that Jesus was clear about how we were to approach those with whom we have disagreements:
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
–Matthew 5: 43-48 (NIV)
Look, we all are broken and wounded people, and our passions sometimes get the best of us. I confess that when someone cuts me off on the highway forcing me to slam on my breaks to avoid a collision, I am likely to curse them and be filled with rage. It is a weakness on my part that I have to repent of daily, and ask for God’s transformation.
Likewise, as the political rhetoric gets hotter and hotter, we may find our passions inflamed and our voices saying things that are out of our control. We may think that they are perfectly justified, but if they fail to conform to Christ’s call to love God and love neighbor, they are probably over the top. Jesus understood that his followers, those who would be his body, would be characterized by love, not hate. “That’s how all the world will know who you follow,” Jesus told his disciples.
I write these words this morning not to condemn, but to call to account, for we all are guilty of saying things and believing things that fall outside of Christ’s call to love. The question for us today is whether we truly want to live in the way of Jesus, or whether we want the trappings of religiosity without having our lives changed. It is when we want the latter that we find ourselves on a street corner shouting at our neighbor that they are evil and believing mistruths of hate about those who would be president.
Image courtesy of procsila via flickr.com