Christian ethics requires simultaneous introspection and outward orientation. It’s a “both-and” thing.

[Note: To get this blog site up and running, I am reposting a few of my Facebook posts from recent months. This is one of them. It was first posted to Facebook on the date listed, though these first few posts to Neighborfy are being uploaded in June 2017. I’ve made minor edits to some of the Neighborfy versions.  Because these posts were originally posted to Facebook, unfortunately the original comments from readers are not copied here.]

Thoughts in response to the Alexandria shooting…

An old friend posted a comment on Facebook yesterday that encouraged us to examine whether our anger at the present-day political situation might stem, at least in part, from turmoil within ourselves. Starting from a Jungian background, he asked, in effect: “Might we be projecting some of our own internal issues onto our political opponents or others?” That spurred conversation on a related point — it also reminded us of Jesus’ admonition to “examine the logs in our own eyes before we criticize the speck in another’s eye.” (If you’re one of my friends who isn’t part of the Christian faith, that saying is attributed to Jesus in the 7th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.)  I posted a comment in response to my friend’s post, and a few comments were generated in response to mine, all of which led me to think I hadn’t articulated my point well. It’s a point worthy of broader conversation, I think, so I want to take a moment to make the point more clearly now…

In recent months, some of my pastor friends have elected to steer a relatively safe route of speaking into our political situation – they don’t. They surmise (rightly, I imagine) that their congregations are too raw or divided or immature (or just unpracticed) to talk “out in the open” about important public issues with political overtones. Wanting to stay relevant, they approach the debate obliquely, encouraging parishioners to focus on the things they can control – themselves, their own attitudes, and their own speech, rather than suffer the anxiety that is pervasive among our communities, worrying from one controversy to the next.

Those pastors are acting on 2 valid instincts: First, they are giving care to the psychic suffering right in front of them. Second, they are playing the long game – as they see it, they are working one step at a time toward a better future, by attempting to build congregations like the community we envision for the wider world. Both are good instincts, but incomplete. While we sit in our air-conditioned, hymn-singing, self-affirming comfort, while we work on mutual acceptance and practice hospitably to those who actually walk through our doors, while we focus on our own behavior within the church, it can become convenient to ignore the fact that millions are losing healthcare, or that misguided individuals who hate [____] have lately found a platform and a voice. So the only point I was gently trying to make was this: Mature, adult Christian discipleship is a “both-and” kind of thing – we have to do the work on our own hearts AND, all the while, we need to take affirmative steps to lift up the least and the lowest.

I didn’t read anything in my friend’s initial post or in any of the related commentary that disagreed with any of my points here, but I am aware that there are lots of fellow journeyers in the faith who read his and my posts (with a number of pastors among them) who, like my friend and I, are anguished over the attempted assassinations in DC this week. (My daughter played 2 lacrosse games in the neighborhood where that occurred, just a couple of weeks ago, so it felt really close to home for us!)  Lots of us who lean left politically are accustomed to criticizing our reasonable right-leaning friends for not being “up in arms” every time some wacko from the right commits violence. We want them to distance themselves, out loud, from all the violence (e.g., the Gabby Gifford incident, which was perpetrated by a fringe idiot who self-identified with the Tea Party), and we urge them to curb the excesses in their rhetoric. So when a wacko from the left commits violence like happened this week, we, too, are faced with the real need to shout our opposition to all politically motivated violence (and thankfully I did see LOTS of that from left-leaning leaders this week), and we, too, need to examine our own rhetorical excesses. Honest introspection is called for. We need to examine the logs in our own eyes, so to say. I get that, so my friend’s post was surely right on point. My observation is merely that we cannot stop there. In recent months I’ve seen pastors who’ve limited their leadership to encouragement of introspection and “log removal,” while remaining relatively silent on the plight of the least and lowest.

We can let introspection paralyze us, but we shouldn’t. We can’t entirely refrain from engagement with the world (and the political situation) while we ask ourselves whether we, too, have misplaced anger in our hearts. (Hint: We do. We’ll keep working on it. Move along.) Self-reflection, if honest and searching, surely yields a measure of humility. Self-reflection, if Christian, surely yields a desire to be charitable and compassionate when we speak to our political opponents. But that Christ-following impulse also leads to more than working on self and working on our own congregational communities. Moving forward in humility as charitable and compassionate conversation partners, we actually need to get out there and speak. It’s a “both-and” thing.

[That ‘s the end of my main point.  Read further if you’re interested in a little  more difficult, candid commentary.]

*P.S.  This call for “examining the log in your own eye” isn’t directed toward any particular political affiliation, of course. In my comments above, I’ve acknowledged that left-leaning folks, like me, need to check our own language to ensure that we aren’t, e.g., encouraging excessive, hateful words or conduct by others, and we need to condemn left-motivated conduct like we witnessed from the shooter in Alexandria this week. I condemn it, and this week I heard many, many of my fellow lefties condemning it.  But make no mistake: Criticizing political positions via reasoned, respectful speech is not hate-speech. This week I heard some right-leaning folks attempting to label legitimate, thoughtful, respectful criticism from the left as “hate speech.” They tried to argue that the left’s legitimate political commentary was somehow responsible for the mental health condition of the misguided would-be assassin in Alexandria. Let’s take a breath. It is not helpful (in fact, it’s counter-productive) to label the op-ed argumentation coming from, e.g, Rachel Maddow or the NYT as hate speech. Pointing out and/or criticizing hate speech isn’t automatically hate speech.

I realize that each of you sees and hears a different set of speakers than I do, but surely we can all acknowledge that there is a fringe element at both ends of the political spectrum. Reasonable folks on both the left side and right side of the political aisle are not like the fringe elements who identify with their parties. I don’t personally know a single “lefty” who has ANY ideas or attitudes like the Alexandria shooter, who was clearly mentally ill. To be clearer still, I also don’t personally know ANY right-leaning people with violent or volatile attitudes. Let’s not lump mass portions of society into the same category as fringe elements. To be very clear, however, in my own personal experience, in recent years I’ve seen and heard more “hate speech” coming from the fringe right. Not exclusively, or course: I’ll say it again – I fully acknowledge that hate speech sometimes comes from the left, too. After this week’s shooting, one right-leaning friend shared some abhorrent tweets where lefties had expressed their hopes that Congressman Scalise would succumb to his wounds – how horrible and hateful indeed! My friend was right to point out such nonsense, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to condemn that hateful attitude and to reassure my political sparring partners (and my friend) that such views are truly fringe. But currently this truth is unavoidable: In recent months, I’ve (we’ve all) seen anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim (and other forms of) bigotry voiced from lots of sources, and they’ve often been Trump supporters. That doesn’t come close to saying that all Trump supporters think that way. I don’t for a moment think that all Trump supporters are bigoted or that they all think like the fringe-right (in fact, all but a handful of my Trump-supporting friends are truely lovely folks who are welcome in my home!), and virtually all of my left-leaning friends share my view on this point. But this observation does mean that we remain hopeful that our reasonable Trump-supporting friends will also continue to condemn the bigotry among the fringe in their ranks (just as I’ll condemn our left-leaning fringe). If you’re not one of those bigots (and I’m sure you’re not), SAY SO – not so much to satisfy your left-leaning friends, like me, but so that your voices, blended with our voices, will drown the hateful voices that we all hope to overcome.

Both left and right need the benefit of introspection, of “examining the logs in our own eyes” before criticizing our political sparring partners. And, simultaneously, both sides of these debates can and should speak out for the interests of those who don’t have a voice in our society. Let’s do so with some humility, charity and compassion.

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