Given how warm a summer this has been — on course to be the warmest summer ever — you might think my headline about turning down the temperature might be about global warming. But, actually, today I want to talk about the things that we’re regularly told are dangerous to talk about in polite company — religion and politics.
As we head into yet another potentially heated presidential election cycle, I want to offer today some words of encouragement for the ways that we, as people of faith, can make a difference in a positive way to help lower the temperature of rhetoric that seems to be a part of every aspect of our world these days.
Over the course of the last decade or more, we have seen the political landscape undergo a very dramatic change. I long for the days when we had two major parties — one leaning to the left, one leaning to the right, but with the same common goal of working for the good of the whole. In those days, both sides could come together on an issue and engage in something exceedingly rare today — they could compromise with the belief that most Americans are somewhere in the middle and know that you’ve got to give a little to get a little. We know that those days are gone.
The age of compromise has been replaced with the age of tribalism. In this age, politics has become a zero-sum game that demonizes the other and will only be satisfied if the other side is completely decimated — no matter the cost. Vengeance and contempt have replaced compromise and progress.
A great sign of this divide comes from a recent CBS/YouGov poll that revealed that 54 percent of Americans view other Americans as the biggest threat to our nation. That means that both Democrats and Republicans view the other side as more dangerous to America than Russia, China, global warming or any of the other real threats we face.
Another way of saying all of this is that the temperature of our public discourse is burning hot — as hot as the temperature outside — and we’ve got to find a way to turn it down. This is where I think that we, as people of faith, can make a difference and help turn the temperature down and get back to something that resembles civility.
We are in a unique position to help turn down the temperature in our nation because our gold standard is not a political party; it is always the life, death, resurrection and saving actions of Jesus. Our standard is the Gospel. Our job is not to magnify the destructive culture wars that swirl around us, but to live lives defined by the fruits of the Spirit. We’re called not to stoke outrage with everyone who doesn’t share our world view, but to see everyone — even those with whom we disagree — the way Jesus sees them, with love and compassion.
And so it starts with being more intentional about the news and commentary we absorb every day. If the “news” we take in only makes us angrier and more afraid, then we need to cut it out of our life. We need to be filled with Jesus and His Word – these alone will lead us to be a peaceful presence in the world.
We need to find the middle ground. Just because we disagree with someone does not make him or her our enemy. Most of us are not on the far ends of the political spectrum; we’re not at the extremes; we’re in the middle. We need to find that middle ground because that’s where unity and compromise can be found. And when we’re there, we can try to figure out what Jesus would say about an issue, not what today’s “talking points” are from social media.
Peacemakers not just Peacekeepers. Creating peaceful spaces will take more energy and effort than merely trying not to ruffle feathers. Jesus did not call us to be warriors; He called us to be peacemakers; and when we are, He calls us “blessed.” We need to be the ones who don’t add to the division, but the ones who make peace in divided times. Peacemaking takes time, patience, intentionality, practice, and patience.
As people of faith, we are the practiced experts in reconciliation, grace, peace and forgiveness. We must bring these skills into the public sphere.
One of my favorite fictional characters, TV anchor Wil McAvoy from “The Newsroom” said, “I’m on a mission to civilize. Progress is slow, but I’m in it for the long haul.” Maybe we should all be on a mission to civilize; and in the process we might just save our country. Together, let us turn down the temperature.
Father Washburn is pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich.