Even though I know better, I recently left a comment on the Facebook post for a Federalist article I saw lamenting mask mandates. I didn’t rant or get on a soapbox. All I did was express my belief that wearing masks protects others and wrote a couple of sentences pointing out the need to look out for our most vulnerable citizens.
Since The Federalist is a conservative publication and I tend to lean to the middle of the political compass, I didn’t expect my words to be agreed with, let alone cheered. Yet I also didn’t expect to be the object of vitriolic rage for my opinion.
The worst comment came from a woman who said, among other things, that I have no respect for our fallen soldiers or the rights they died to protect. She called me “ignorant,” an “utter fool,” an “assimilated Borg government drone,” and “beneath contempt” — because I favor mask mandates.
I deleted my comment, not because I don’t stand by it, but because the responses were so extreme, so over-the-top, that I felt weird and embarrassed to be associated with the conversation. I wanted to tell this woman that I’ve written a couple of articles for The Federalist in the past and that we might share similar opinions on other issues. I guess we’ll never know.
Of course, conservatives don’t have a monopoly on this type of fury. Early in the pandemic when The Washington Post reported 1 in 8 Trump voters live in counties without an Intensive Care Unit, nearly all the comments on Facebook and on the Post’s website were gleeful. Some spoke of natural selection. Others cited karma. Commenters joked about sending “thoughts and prayers” and about how “those people” don’t believe in science anyway.
Indeed, amidst a pandemic and with sometimes inadequate health care, people who live in poor, rural counties were mocked for their weight, their religion, their education. They were told they were getting what they deserve. The lack of compassion was astounding.
Sadly, the preceding examples are just a sampling of the daily deluge of hate and anger routinely spewed across the internet. They aren’t comprehensive, but they showcase our eagerness to put people into boxes based on who they vote for, where they live, what causes they support, or what opinions they hold on any given topic.
Once we’ve compartmentalized others, we no longer see them as people, loved into existence by God. We stop viewing them as people with an inherent dignity that marks them as humans deserving of kindness and respect. Instead, we see them as the enemy. We insult them personally. We call them names. We dismiss them as stupid, evil, or “beneath contempt.”
We don’t just disagree, we hate. Yet those we hate, however, no matter who they are voting for or what positions they hold are sons and daughters of God.
I once heard a priest explain it this way: We are, at our core, beloved children of God. Our actions don’t change that. If I lie, for example, I am not, at my core, a liar. I am a child of God who lies. The same is true for politics and policies.
It is not who we vote for or even what opinions we hold that define us because, more than anything else, each of us is a beloved child of God. It’s true for me, and it is true for the lady in the comments section who hates me.
To be clear, this priest wasn’t trying to minimize sin. If anything, he was trying to emphasize the seriousness of it. After all, while it may be part of our fallen nature, sin goes against our original design.
This is true of all sin, but perhaps it is particularly true of a lack of charity or sins of meanness and snark, of name-calling and mocking. When we do these things, we don’t only deny our own nature as children of God but that of the people we mock and insult — whether a stranger with the “wrong” opinion or a politician running for office.
Of course, mudslinging is nothing new. Our country has a long history of ugly and contentious politics. Yet, in today’s political climate this has reached a fever pitch. Sadly, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are often contribute to the growing acrimony. Acrid, personal cheap shots and insults not only weaken our witness as Christians — they weaken our democracy.
Right now, we are a polarized nation. Meaningful discussion and intelligent debate have all but been lost to us. Instead, we call people names and mock their beliefs in an attempt to score points for “our side.” We rage into cyberspace, hoping to collect “likes” from those who think like us or to insult those who don’t. We don’t really seek to change hearts and minds — we just try to wound them. Meanwhile, the divide between left and right just grows ever wider.
But what if Americans, Christians in particular, stopped all of this? What if we shared our personal beliefs and political positions respectfully, without smugness or condescension? What if we listened to others, even those with whom we vehemently disagree, and tried to understand something of where they are coming from?
What if we realize that people who support the other candidate or hold a different opinion might still be good and decent people? What if we treated every other person, on the internet or in person, as a child of God?
Being a Christian doesn’t mean tolerating ideas and policies that are morally problematic, nor does it mean we have to necessarily like people we find disagreeable. Yet being a follower of Jesus means remembering Christ’s command to forgive and to pray for our enemies.
Above all, it means praying that we can be granted the strength to let go of malice and bitterness, even in the face of opposition and insults. If we did that, we still might not change people’s opinions or win them over to “our side.” But we would be showing them the love of Christ, and that might just help Him win them to His.