By / Sep 26

I have been involved for several years now with an organization that seeks to reduce the political polarization that seems to be growing in our society. The group is called Braver Angels. It specializes in hosting conversations between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. One of the notable things I’ve observed is that prior to these conversations, the participants tend to have an extremely low opinion of the people with whom they disagree. They assume they are probably bad people. They can’t imagine they would ever be friends with them. After they spend several hours together with a moderator who works to keep the conversation constructive, things seem to change. They don’t come to a place of agreement. That’s not the goal of Braver Angels. But they do seem to gain a new appreciation for their conversation partners as people. And that is the goal. Genuine conversation, as opposed to the series of battles we constantly stage on television and on social media, helps to rebuild connections.  

Unfortunately, the rest of the world is very different from a Braver Angels workshop. We have a long way to go to cultivate civic virtue in which we view each other as friends and countrymen with political differences instead of as opposing armies occupying the same land. Instead, we have become comfortable dismissing entire groups of people. Worse, rather than merely dismissing them, we are building them up into demonic figures. The truth is that human beings are those made in God’s image who are afflicted with sin, rather than demons. The appropriate spirit to take toward them is one of sympathy and patience rather than war. 

This phenomenon of demonization has unfortunately reached virtually every part of the American political community and into many churches. Whether it is Q-Anon conspiracies, the dismissal of “soy-boys” and “snowflakes,” the blowtorch rhetoric of President Trump, or even something like President Biden’s prime-time jeremiad against “MAGA Republicans,” American political discourse has moved in the direction of villainization as a preferred mode.

Serving the Lord of the Beatitudes

But Christians serve the Lord of the Beatitudes. Within those passages in Matthew 5:2-12, we see the praise of meekness, mercy, and long-suffering in the face of trials. Further in the chapter, Jesus counsels reconciliation, turning the other cheek, and loving enemies. There is a worthwhile and longstanding debate on the degree to which these teachings apply to individuals over against our broader political lives. But it would be strange indeed if we were to believe there is no connection. Let us accept that Martin Luther was correct in seeing those commands directed toward individuals, the kind of person formed by obeying them will not be one who is quick to anger, who lacks empathy, who cultivates strife, and who inflicts damage with no regard for the need to make peace again in its aftermath.

One of the major deliverances of Christian teaching in the Bible has to do with the problem of sin. It is not something that can be conquered habit by habit such as by extinguishing drug use or overeating, though it is highly laudable to do so. The problem of sin is far greater than committing more good acts than bad acts or even eliminating bad acts. Sin is something that is universal in its application to human beings. Every person is afflicted by a sinful will that ultimately, without God’s help, cannot avoid seeking to remove every obstacle to the fulfillment of our desires. If we accept that the situation of the sinful creature is applicable to all of us (which is certainly the teaching of the Bible and the consistent message of the church), then it should be easy for us also to believe that humility is utterly essential. We must always be aware of the innate battle we are all fighting. We must be wary that at the moment when we most greatly revel in our own rectitude, we may be in tremendous danger of surrendering to sin.

When politics fails in its social role, war rears its head. However, we in the United States do not live in a society where politics and civil government no longer function. Our courts still operate. Our legislatures still meet. Governors and other executives carry on their work. There have been some tremendous tests, such as the COVID pandemic, the financial crisis of 2008, and terrorist attacks such as 9/11. It would be a lie to say that our response to any of the crises we have faced has been truly satisfying. Instead, we have seen sinful human beings struggling to manage the public interest, their self-interest, the constant influence of political opportunism, and our general failure to be omniscient even in a world of rapidly expanding information.  

To fail to acknowledge the problems of human sinfulness and limitation will be to amplify our growing sense of unease. What we must all do, from the highest technocrat, to the most powerful policymaker, to the corporate analyst, to the blue collar worker, to the church member, to the father or mother, is to be humble in our recognition of what we can really know and what we can really do. With greater humility will come greater room for love and understanding. The way to keep political violence at bay is to remember who we are and that the only king who will not disappoint (whether a person or a movement) is Jesus Christ, himself.

By / Nov 19

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss drug overdose deaths in the U.S., “QAnon Shaman” sentenced to prison, and religious freedom concerns with the Build Back Better Act. They also talk about National Adoption Month, showing hospitality, and preparing for Advent. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Drug overdose deaths in the United States surpassed 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time; President Biden’s statement
  2. “QAnon Shaman” sentenced to 41 months in prison
  3. Churches’ financial status after pandemic 
  4. Religious freedom concerns for faith-based childcare and Build Back Better Act; ERLC article

Lunchroom

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Sponsors

  • The Dawn of Redeeming Grace // This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Dawn of Redeeming Grace .Join Sinclair Ferguson as he opens up the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel in these daily devotions for Advent. Each day’s reflection is full of insight and application and will help you to arrive at Christmas Day awed by God’s redeeming grace and refreshed by the hope of God’s promised King. Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com.
  • Outrageous Justice // God calls us to seek justice. But how should Christians respond? Outrageous Justice, a free small-group study from experts at Prison Fellowship, offers Christians a place to start. Explore the criminal justice system through a biblical lens and discover hands-on ways to pursue justice, hope, and restoration in your community. Get your free copy of Outrageous Justice, featuring a study guide, videos, and a companion book today! Visit prisonfellowship.org/outrageous-justice.
By / Jan 22

In this episode, Josh, Brent, Julie, and Meagan discuss the inauguration, QAnon in light of Trump leaving the White House, the new COVID-19 variant, Uyghurs “genocide,” the four nominees for SBC president, the March for Life going virtual this year, and the states Americans are choosing to work from home in. Julie also gives a rundown of some of the ERLC’s most popular content from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

About Julie

Julie Masson serves as Director of External Engagement for the ERLC. She is responsible for strategic planning, development and implementation of the ERLC brand strategy across all ERLC departments and provides leadership and oversight for the ERLC marketing team as well as coordinating external affairs and partnership deliverables. Julie and her husband Jesse spent two years in Spain with the International Mission Board before moving to Kansas City where they live with their three children. She is a graduate of Iowa State University. You can connect with her on Twitter: @juliermasson

Culture

  1. Joe Biden sworn in as 46th president of the United States
  2. Trump departs on final Air Force One flight
  3. QAnon reels following inauguration
  4. STATEMENT ON 2021 MARCH FOR LIFE
  5. New California Variant May Be Driving Virus Surge There, Study Suggests
  6. Field of Flags’ put on display at the National Mall ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration
  7. U.S. declares China’s actions against Uyghurs “genocide”
  8. Randy Adams announced as nominee for SBC president
  9. Pastor @EdLitton to be third candidate for SBC president
  10. The states Americans headed to the most in 2020, according to U-Haul

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Sponsors

  • A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: by Jared Kennedy. This short book walks through six conversation topics designed to help you apply the truth and hope of the gospel to the complex issue of gender. 
  • Stand for Life: At the ERLC, we stand for life. Our work to save preborn babies and care for the vulnerable is vital to our work. Believing that abortion can end in our lifetime, will you join us as we STAND FOR LIFE?
By / Jan 8

In the midst of a crisis, such as the attempted coup at the United States Capitol on Wednesday, we naturally long for answers. If you are anything like me, you likely doomscrolled most of the day and night, hoping to grasp what just took place and what it means for our future as a nation. In the moments following the mob violence and rioting, many turned to blame one side or another for the rising dissension and breakdown of our public discourse. Some blame big tech for not doing enough early on to quell the spread of wild conspiracies and misinformation online. Some blame the social media tools themselves as the main culprit, arguing these tools are inherently dangerous and have no place in civil society given the violence they incite. Others will lay the blame solely at the feet of their perceived political enemies, as they attempt to explain away the sins of their own tribe and shift the blame for the disintegration of civic life to someone else.

Social media has given rise to countless benefits in our society, even the ability to know about events as they happen such as this tragic assault on our democracy and institutions that took place yesterday. But social media can also be the rocket fuel poured on the smoldering embers of malice, discontent, and dissension that have long plagued our public life. In recent years, they have ignited over the politicization of every aspect of our lives. 

In our evaluation of technology, we often fixate on the deleterious consequences of its use or completely overlook the ways that technology is molding and discipling us each and every day. But a proper understanding of these tools and their “web of relations,” to quote the famed philosopher Martin Heidegger, will yield a worldview that is able to recognize how these tools disciple us into certain types of people who are fully accountable for our actions. In reality, these social tools have made it easier than ever to spread misinformation, disinformation, and wild conspiracy theories to the masses in record speed.

What may seem initially to be an honest question in the pursuit of truth or “insider information” can quickly lead to real-world harm and violence by those who are bent on exerting bravado over others as they seek to make a name for themselves or show that they are part of the right tribe. This does not mean that we can just simply accept anything we are told by others as fact without questioning, but it does mean that propagating wild theories after the truth has been proven time and time again is not only dangerous to our nation and democracy but also to our souls.

The danger of conspiracy theories

Social media allows for immense connectivity for people across the world, but also has the tendency to create information silos and walled gardens—where we view those on the other side in the worst possible light and our own in the best. We are often discipled through the use of these tools over long periods of time to see the immense online world as simply an innocuous digital medium of random avatars and profile pictures, rather than a place made up of real human beings just like you and me. We forget that the things we tweet, share, and post affect others, which often includes their physical safety and livelihoods.

Conspiracy theories, such as those that possibly led to the Nashville Christmas RV bombing and the lies that led to the destruction at the Capitol, are often much more prevalent on social media than we might like to acknowledge and have real world consequences. Social media can easily trick us into believing that the things we do online do not have real-world consequences and that our personally curated echo chambers are reflections of true reality. But what’s happening online is not a case of innocuous questions being asked, the spread of unverified “insider” information, or the real truth that “they” don’t want you to hear. Conspiracy theories and misinformation can lead to violence and set a dangerous precedent in our cherished democracy as we lose the ability to have respectful rigorous debate over tough issues. 

The reality behind many of those who promote conspiracy theories is that they are not usually concerned about promoting the truth or finding out answers, but rather are pursuing power and prestige. And in many ways, this is inherent in the design of social media. For all of their benefits, these platforms are designed to allow for the spread of information quickly and to incentivize the building of personal platforms with little to no accountability. We are encouraged to craft content that garners as many likes, shares, and retweets as possible in hopes that these messages go viral or influence others in some meaningful way.

While social media can be used for good, the nature of these platforms easily lends itself to be taken over by the wild theories and mistruths that spread quickly through high engagement with others. This is one reason that many platforms have community standards that govern user speech and why these companies have been encouraged to pursue good faith moderation through government legislation. On top of how these platforms are designed, misinformation and disinformation is frequently created to spread like wildfire by containing either an element of truth that has been misconstrued for a malicious purpose or some statement designed to play on one’s deeply-held beliefs and desires, as seen in the popular QAnon conspiracy theories promoting dangerous lies about our nation and its leaders under the auspice of a concern about child sex trafficking. 

Pursuing truth and righteousness in the public square

The Scriptures are clear about these types of motivations of self-aggrandizement and power, as well as how the people of God are to pursue truth in love throughout all areas of our lives (Prov. 8:13; 16:18; John 15:13). The Christian pursuit of truth and righteousness is even more valuable in the age of social media as many of our neighbors (and ourselves at times) can fall prey to these complex lies and those that share these mistruths. Conspiracy theories are not just to be rejected by the people of God, but repudiated and removed from our public discourse as the church (1 John 4:1; James 1:19). Christians of all people are not to traffic in lies, but to pursue truth as we follow the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

The Church has the obligation to stand up for truth in all areas of life and not to tolerate the spreading of misinformation, lies, and the prognostications of those seeking to retain power, position, or influence. While social media makes the spreading of misinformation and conspiracy theories easier than ever before, we each must take a look in the mirror to see how we may be tempted to succumb and share information online that whets our appetites or even validates what we want to be true. Believing the best about your tribe but choosing the worst of your perceived enemies is not only dangerous, but it also seeks to invalidate Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). 

As the prescient French philosopher Jacques Ellul stated in the 1950s about the hold of technology on our lives, we must see how technology is shaping every aspect of our society. But contra Ellul, we can have deep and abiding hope that our society— and more importantly, that we each personally—can recognize the influence of technology, namely social media, and seek to alter our relationship with these tools in ways that love God and love our neighbor. The loving and most caring thing that we can do for our neighbors as the church and for those among the Body of Christ is to pursue and speak truth and show the world that our hope for the future is not tied to any earthly pursuit of power, position, or influence, but to the One that bled and died to give us new life with himself for eternity.