Sitting Vice President Aaron Burr shoots and fatally wounds former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (1804). A notable exception to the “Leave it to Beaver” comment.
Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the worst form of government… except all the others.” The assessment is never more accurate than during presidential election years, which seem to conjure the worst of the worst in America. And while I’m sure that elections of past generations also brought forth feisty debates, I can’t help but think that what we’re seeing in America today makes politics of bygone eras seem more like disagreements from Leave it to Beaver. This campaign season has raised the bar. During monday night’s presidential debate, Republican pundit Ann Coulter posted this tweet in response to Governor Romney’s assessment of President Obama’s foreign policy. Almost instantaneously, the internet exploded. People of all political affiliations and backgrounds were taken aback by the comment, surprised by Coulter’s hurtful word choice. True, the tweet was offensive and insensitive, but shouldn’t we expect this type of thing by now?
The vitriolic nature of political discourse in America shouldn’t surprise us anymore. Both sides of the aisle are guilty (check out some of the hateful comments left on former Bush press secretary Tony Snow’s obituary from the AP – and beware, the language is salty). Many defend Coulter’s tweet, as apparently almost 1,500 users have selected the post as a “favorite” at the time of this writing (and these are surely some of the same people who were continually incensed by regular criticisms and insults regarding President Bush’s intelligence). Coulter’s remarks from Monday night hurt people and likely alienated many undecided voters. Outrage flooded twitterfeeds and blogs nationwide and the fire of America’s political hostility was fueled.
Early Tuesday morning, a response to Coulter’s tweet was published online, written by a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger. One would expect anger and venom to come from someone for whom Coulter’s words would have been especially painful. Instead, the author ends his letter by signing, “A friend you haven’t made yet.” The thoughtful response to a few thoughtless words has gone viral and has brought Ann Coulter’s callus remarks into stark contrast.
How are Christians to interact with the political arena? By recognizing that through the Gospel, we have been set free from hostility. Because of the peace that we have with God, the dividing wall of hostility between people has been torn down. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul declares that believers “were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness” (4:22-24). That transformation comes as a result of understanding the Gospel, which Paul has spent the first three chapters discussing. The “knowledge of the Son of God” (4:13) Paul is referring to leads to life change, and part of that life change defines the way we relate to people. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). Sure, there are people out there who think that shouting down a political opponent is the right thing to do. They have convinced themselves that this type of thing is helpful for those who disagree and need enlightenment. Well meaning Christians have justified abrasive and callus rhetoric by asserting that it is surely unloving to simply remain quiet about certain things in the political and social realm. However, Paul, offers that believers should not “grieve the Holy Spirit of God… Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:30-32).
Christians are called to define their relationships by the Gospel. Regardless of political party, affiliation, or position, the standard is the same. Consequently, engaging the ever more volatile political process can be challenging. Some certainly argue that members of the opposition cannot possibly deserve compassion, respect, and love. But the love of Christ, which has overcome the enmity between a Creator and a rebellious world can surely overcome the hostility between a democrat and a republican. We live in a broken world. Ann Coulter’s tweet from Monday night shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But the response of Christians to that type of hostility should surprise the world.