Let me start with two things.
One: Ultimately, the only person responsible for the potential massacre of GOP congressmen that took place at a Alexandria, Va., ballfield this week is James T. Hodgkinson — the deceased shooter himself.
Two: I’m not sure we truly understand how close we came to reaching a point of no return as a people. Had Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., had to miss Wednesday’s practice for any reasons that come up when you’re a husband, father, and member of leadership, we would’ve likely pulled several body bags out of the hailstorm of bullets.
Fortunately, with Scalise there, as the House majority leader he had armed security detail with him who could take down the shooter.
But I can only imagine where we might have gone as a people if that weren’t the case. Would we have seen retaliations? Would this have been the spark that ignited our “Balkan powder keg” of divided culture at the moment, where political violence is becoming increasingly normalized and commonplace? (And now play-beheading politicians we don’t like is apparently fair game?)
This side of eternity, we simply can’t eliminate fallen human nature. Thus, evil and lunacy will always be with us to some extent. However, as fallen human beings, we also have a divine responsibility to aim higher than our worst and most basic instincts. Therefore, now is a moment for us to assess how we may be contributing to pouring gasoline on a raging fire.
And when I say “we,” I mean we. I’m every bit including myself in this conversation.
Allow me to begin this assessment with a sports analogy. Do you know why there is fighting in hockey?
“Because people like to watch them” is the most common answer to that question. While that may answer for us why fighting remains in hockey, it doesn’t explain where it came from in the first place.
See, hockey is an aggressive, collision sport. It’s basically football on ice skates at breakneck speed. It’s men in prime physical condition, competing winner-take-all with all that testosterone driving them to excel.
Every now and then, somebody thinks they’ve been done wrong. The problem with that is that somebody carries with him a pretty potent weapon, his hockey stick — something that with one swing could do lasting, if not mortal, damage to the recipient.
In the heat of battle, you don’t always have time to pause and reflect. You often just react, and in doing so may do something you’ll wish the rest of your life you’d never done. So the hockey gods realized they couldn’t change human nature, but they could maneuver it to manifest itself in a less devastating way.
Enter fighting, when two players can drop the gloves, and then spend the next several moments wrestling to get in a good punch.
Meanwhile, the referees are standing back and watching the entire ordeal — letting them get it out of their system. The minute somebody draws blood, or gets the other down in a vulnerable position, they step in to break it up. Both men are sent to the penalty box or showers to cool off, and the teams all go back to trying to win the game.
This is how our First Amendment is supposed to work.
Our Founding Fathers gave us freedom of speech, religion, conscience, and the press specifically because they lived a history when denying those God-given rights led to tyranny and/or violence. (As it has every other time those God-given rights have been denied in the course of human events.)
They realized sooner or later we would come to an existential crossroads as a culture. These are men who nearly lost the Constitution over the slavery debate, after all. And they knew that if the proper mechanism for fighting what amounts to civil war weren’t provided and protected, it would lead to tyranny/violence here as well. The founders knew if we didn’t have an arena of ideas – where the best ideas may win when the vote is taken afterward – we would have a battlefield instead.
To do our part as a people not to incentivize any more evil and lunacy then this groaning creation already demands we face, I believe we need to do these five things:
1) Remember each of us is an image bearer of God.
No matter how much we may disagree, we must remember the Creator fearfully and wonderfully made that person in His image. He’s counted the hairs on their head.
And, as a Christian, I believe Christ gave his life for them, just as he did for me when I was estranged/opposed to him as well. Not to mention, somewhere that person has a father, mother, spouse, children, and/or others who love them and only know them as an individual — and not a set of beliefs or values we may not share.
If we can’t do this, then we will create more Hodgkinsons.
2) Put the focus on the ideas, not the person.
I happen to think President Obama’s ideology was Marxism, because “by their fruits you will know them.” But I also recognize what a tremendous job he and Michelle did raising those girls in the most difficult circumstances.
I’m guessing any parent in rural America would gladly hope the worst their kid is known for in 18 years is getting caught with a doobie once. Not that you approve, but as a parent, you’d call that a win in ideal circumstances — let alone raising children under the biggest microscope on the planet.
So while I vehemently disagree with Obama’s ideas, and will use every platform I have to defeat them, I honor what is noble about him as a person — beginning by recognizing his humanity, regardless of whether he recognizes mine. Because, ultimately, I am not responsible to my political opponents for my character, but to my Creator.
This is how Reagan can go from telling the “evil empire” to “tear down this wall,” to walking the streets of Moscow during perestroika. His argument was with Sovietism, and how it diminished the human condition, not Mikhail Gorbachev on a personal level.
3) Stop substituting emotion for actual debate.
Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they hate America, although there are some on the Left that do. Similarly, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re a racist, although there are some on the Right that are.
Of course, racism, unjustified self-loathing of country, and other human fallibilities aren’t unique to either side of the political aisle, because all humans, on both sides, are fallible. But that’s my point.
Sometimes people just disagree with you. Sometimes they have good reasons for doing so, and sometimes they don’t. People aren’t perfect.
Besides, if everyone who disagrees with you is a racist, you so diminish the term, it makes it harder to stamp out real racism. Likewise, if everyone on the other side is an America-hating leftist, it makes it harder to confront those that actually are.
4) Have more in-person, real-time debates – even vigorous ones, not less.
One of the reasons I agree to do “liberal media” appearances when I can is that it’s one of the few places I can go to directly engage the other side — to either find out if they have a legit point, or persuade them to mine. Yet I often have some of the same conservatives complaining about media bias tell me I shouldn’t do so.
Help me to understand why you believe the antidote to liberal media bias is to not use their platform to communicate conservatism when they offer it? That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Frankly, it’s just as nonsensically hypocritical as leftists claiming to be all about diversity as they riot on campus to avoid hearing dissenting views.
I’m guessing I’ve voiced some of the most “right-wing” opinions ever aired on MSNBC; I’ve never gone on there and had them convince me to move left on an issue. But at the same time, when you get to know people on a first-name basis, it makes it harder to dehumanize them. It also makes you better at making your point.
Any snowflake can be a demagogue, but it takes a true patriot to change hearts and minds. And that often happens at the relationship level — not at the lowest common denominator, in the social media cesspool.
Just as we’re not persuaded by leftists calling us “racist, misogynist, homophobic xenophobes,” I doubt the powers that be at CNN will take “CNN is ISIS” as a serious critique. Do I think the network has some credibility problems? … Is the Pope Catholic? But that’s a far cry from crucifying people.
5) Check your motivations – constantly.
The great D.L. Moody once famously said “when you’re winsome you win some.” Now, sometimes winsome won’t cut it; sometimes a whip of cords is needed and some money changers need turned over.
But make sure that passion, even anger, is righteous in origin. Is this a constructive or destructive motivation? Nothing hurts our arguments more than undermining them by our very own actions and attitudes.