Over the past two weeks’ political conventions I have watched most of the major speeches and then headed to my computer to check Twitter, the blogs, news sites, and online forum that I frequent. What has astonished me these past two weeks is the amount of bitter, vitriolic tone that has come not from the politicians (where I expect it) but from supporters of both sides.
Now, I’m not talking about people complaining bitterly about the other side misrepresenting their candidate’s positions (which both sides do). I’m not talking about people finding creative ways to describe their opponents’ apparent inexperience or lack of qualifications. (Both sides do it, and both have their share of inexperience.)
I’m not talking about people you’d expect the worst from, people like Hannity and Limbaugh on the right and The Huffington Post and The Daily Kos on the left. I’ve done my best to tune all of them out for a while now.
I’m talking about Christians. People who I know are good, kind people. The kind of people you’d want to sit down and have a beer with and discuss life. The kind of people who you’d want serving in your church, ministering to you or your friend in need, teaching your kids in Sunday School. And these last two weeks the things I’ve heard and read from these folks have surprised me. Name-calling. Making fun of candidates for their “creepy laugh” or their funny accent or the way they dress. Things that they wouldn’t ever in a million years think of saying about a friend… or a visitor to their church… or someone they met on the street. But because that person is the current representative of a political view that they disagree with or fear, there seems to be no limit to the insults that can be hurled.
Professor and author Gene Veith today on his blog asks “Why the vitriol?” He asks, in part:
We’ve discussed controversial theological points and complex moral issues on this blog and stayed friendly. Why do we lose it when it comes to politics? There may be good reasons, but I’d like us to think about what they are.
With due respect, Professor, I’m not so sure about good reasons. In fact, I want to go a little further and say this:
If it would be wrong to make fun of your co-worker’s funny-sounding name, it’s wrong to make similar fun of Barack Obama.
If it would be wrong to derisively mock your neighbor’s creepy laugh, it’s wrong to mock John McCain’s.
If it would be sinfully unloving to deride the parent of an unwed teenage mother who visited your church last week, it’s just as sinful and unloving to deride Sarah Palin’s current circumstance.
Why do we think that because there’s a presidential election on that we’re suddenly exempt from 1 Peter 3?
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech.
He must turn from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
I’m not calling for the end of all political debate. I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t have strong political views, or endorse candidates, or argue the issues.
But we should keep it to the issues. There are plenty to discuss and argue. If we listen instead of bluster, we might just learn something from the other guy, too.
So, friends, we shouldn’t be mocking John McCain because he has a weird smile and laugh. We shouldn’t be making fun of Barack Obama because he has (compared to recent political candidates) a strange-sounding name. We shouldn’t be deriding Sarah Palin because she sounds like an extra from Fargo. And all that jesting about Joe Biden’s hair plants? At least do it in good cheer.