Choose Kindness

By Rob Renfroe –

It’s not news that our country was divided before the election. It’s not news that our country will continue to be divided after the election. And, hopefully, it is not news to you that this nation desperately needs the people of God to model a different, better way forward. The world needs to see in us that it’s possible for people to be passionate about their beliefs and at the same time compassionate towards those who hold different views and values.

In his journal, dated October 6, 1774, John Wesley wrote, “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them,

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:

2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And,

3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Wesley knew that politics could bring out the worst in people. And he knew that when we allow our differences to become personal and we let our spirits become embittered, we are no longer able to be salt and light in the world – or he might say, we are no longer able to spread scriptural holiness across the land. Angry people – even if they are right, even if they are Christians – cannot heal an angry nation. Believers who make their differences with others personal and who attack the integrity of those with whom they disagree cannot elevate the conversation or build a bridge that takes society to a better day.

This isn’t only true when it comes to national elections. It’s valid when it comes to church politics and to differences regarding how we address issues like racial justice or same-sex behavior. Nothing is gained by demonizing the person who disagrees with us. We do not create a better future by becoming cynical of the other person’s motives. We do not honor Christ by demeaning the worth of another human being made in the image of God. And we will never win people over to our side by showing contempt for their intelligence or beliefs.

I took some time this summer to do some reading I should have done long ago. One book I enjoyed immensely was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on Abraham Lincoln titled Team of Rivals. In the midst of our country’s most divided hour, he found himself not only trying to hold a nation together, but also the factions within his own political party, some of whom demanded the immediate and complete abolition of slavery and others who wanted to go slower for strategic and pragmatic reasons. Lincoln encouraged people, regardless of their views, not to attack others with “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation.”

Why not attack your opponents and their beliefs? According to Goodwin, Lincoln believed denunciation would inevitably be met with denunciation, “crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema.” He believed that it is the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to “retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.”

Lincoln believed it was better to employ the approach of “erring man to an erring brother” – following the old adage that a “drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.”

Attack, condemn, and recriminate and we may enjoy the feeling of being morally superior to those we despise. But we will never change someone who sees things differently for the better. Convey contempt for the other person  with our words, our actions, or our tone of voice – and we won’t build bridges, we’ll burn them; we won’t create relationships, we’ll destroy them; we won’t help a person change, we’ll move him or her to become defensive and we will lose any influence we might have in his or her life.

Paul told Timothy: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

When we engage with others who hold different views or who attack us for our beliefs, we have a decision to make. Do we respond in such a way that we prove ourselves right and in the process make them look foolish and show their arguments to be shallow? Or do we respond gently and kindly in the hope that God will use our words to bring them to a knowledge of the truth? In other words, which is more important – winning the argument or winning the person?

Jesus went even further than Paul. He told us to love our enemies. People who agree with us and those who don’t. People who vote the way we do and those who don’t. People who are fair to us and people who aren’t. People who like us on Facebook and those who attack us. Jesus said we must love not only our friends but our enemies.

If I love you, I will respect your dignity and care about your opinions. I will listen to you and value what you have to say. I will be kind to you even when you are cruel to me. I will not impugn your motives or attack your intelligence or try to embarrass you in front of others. I will take care that my spirit is not sharpened against you because you voted differently than I did or because you are more liberal in your understanding of the Scriptures than I am. If I love what I believe to be true more than I love you, I have failed you, myself, and my God.

Our nation is deeply divided and dangerously close to coming apart, perhaps more so than at any time since Lincoln served as President. And there are times when we must battle for our beliefs. But Paul’s words remind us that we are not fighting against people; we are fighting for people. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We fight against ignorance, deception, and darkness because we are for people, even those – especially those – who we believe to be in error.

This is a difficult moment, but it’s a moment of opportunity. It is a moment when we can show the world that the people of Jesus are different. When others shout, we listen and talk softly. When people are angry and try to make others angrier still, we act with gentleness and kindness. When others delight in dividing people, we find joy in bringing people together. When others say that differing politics and values must separate us, we say and show that the love of Jesus can bring us together.

Choose kindness. Choose gentleness. Choose listening. Choose understanding. Choose to be different. Choose love.

Comments

  1. Fred Garrott says

    I understand that George Washington pleaded that our nation not have two parties. I am sorry we didn’t follow his advise. We are even finding the division is destroying the United Methodist Church.

  2. Rob,
    The secular forces have obviously invaded and contaminated our denomination to the point of rendering it unrecognizable as a Christian church at times. However, I can find little or no evidence of the traditional minded leaders of our denomination practicing anything but kindness in dealing with others over these past five decades as this schism has now reached fill measure. I thank them for modeling Christian love and giving one like me spiritual guidance.

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