Political bitterness

Do you ever read the “Comments” section underneath online magazine articles? You need a strong stomach. When they can hide behind a fake screen name, people come out with the most disappointingly abusive and vulgar statements. Even YouTube music videos seem to bring out the beast in people as they shout and curse at one another. We live in an age of h8ters.

I have also been pretty glum for many months, years actually, about the level of bitterness and incivility in America’s political talk. Gun rights, abortion, immigration, health care, politicized redistricting, and level of taxation all seem to inflame people to windy self-congratulation and demonization of those who disagree with them. It doesn’t help that in the last 16 years not one but two candidates won the presidency in spite of losing the popular vote. It’s just as what Vince Lombardi said after losing a championship in the ’60s—“We didn’t lose; we just ran out of time.” Political conflict never ceases.

I am comforted a little by my summer reading. I am working through Kenneth Stampp’s America in 1857, an in-depth look at a pivotal year in America’s politics that set the stage for the Civil War. The level of angry and contemptuous rhetoric was even worse in those years. Newspapers never even pretended neutrality or non-biased reporting. They were all heavily identified with one party or the other. Perhaps you know the story of how in 1856 pro-slavery Rep. Preston Brooks badly beat Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane, and did it in the U.S. Senate! Perhaps I’ve been dreaming that American political discourse ever was civil and constructive.

It is important for Christians that we not let Satan steal our joy at the tremendous blessings we receive by living here. Freedom of religion and speech were bought for us at a bloody price. Here is what I pledge myself to this week, and I invite you to take the pledge with me:

  • Stay grateful. Tell God, and illustrate your prayer with your life, how much you appreciate your country.
  • Stay civil. Decide that you will never post abusive or hateful online comments. Decide that you will listen twice before speaking once on all political issues.
  • Stay prayerful. Ask God this week to show mercy to us, to keep our leaders from political follies, to use our world position wisely and unselfishly, and to accomplish the mission he set for us by giving us so much wealth and power. Ask that he will bless our efforts to reduce military conflicts and bring about peace.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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