America’s coming divide has been one of my big emphases in recent articles and sermons. I truly believe the ideological divide that is building in America has already infested our pews and will only grow worse.
And while I personally believe the best course of action is to reroute our focus from the political battlefield to the spiritual mission of the church, I realize that’s not going to happen overnight. While people are still engaged in politics, it’s time we name the culprit.
So who’s the culprit? Well, the majority, in any given setting.
It’s astounding how freely people will speak when they perceive themselves to be in the right-thinking majority. People who have no clue where I stand politically have made disparaging remarks about Trump supporters, while others have openly criticized those who don’t support him. Similarly, I’ve had people mock those who don’t believe in the need for masks, and I’ve had people talk about the stupidity of mask-wearing.
In each of these cases, the people expected – without any prompting from me – that I agreed with them, because of course I would agree with them. But what if I didn’t? My options are to keep my mouth shut and keep the peace, or say what I believe and risk them writing me off as one of those stupid people they just criticized. If you are that open with your divisive opinions, consider just how many people you may have driven into silence (placing a hard limit on your relationship) or driven away altogether.
Why are they so comfortable setting up this precarious situation? Because they are comfortable in their position as the majority, thinking that 99% of people must agree with them while only a select few losers disagree. They are comfortable knowing they have the backing of their “majority,” whether it is their group of friends, their social media circles, or national narratives.
As somebody who holds a number of extreme minority opinions (I’ve been called a contrarian a time or two), I’ve learned to pretty much shut my mouth in almost all social situations. Many people are entirely incapable of entertaining differing opinions, and once you learn that you realize that expressing such opinions is the only way to preserve any kind of connection. I would love to live in a world in which we could freely say “Interesting, but I disagree, and here’s why…”
But with many, many people, that just can’t happen, because they perceive themselves to be in the right-thinking majority and can’t entertain that somebody could disagree with them and still be a good person. As the “good guys,” they have been given the moral authority to lecture others and banish them from the social square.
This is the Stanford prison experiment on a national level. In the experiment, prisoners were randomly assigned as either officers or prisoners. Within six days the “superiors” had become so abusive that the experiment was ended. All you have to do is give a group of humans a perceived high ground over another group of humans and they can justify all kinds of ill treatment toward those they view as their lessers.
What’s shameful is that there are Christians who fall perfectly in line with the experiment. They have jumped right in with their worldly counterparts to shame and shun their “lessers.”
Of course, not everybody who holds a majority position is so divisive. The underlying heart matters are still the biggest determining factor. Pair those heart matters with the backing of the majority and the groundwork for divisiveness has been fully laid down.
Those underlying issues, of course, are immaturity and idolatry.
It’s a matter of immaturity because our identities aren’t grounded in God, family, and friends. Rather, we identify ourselves by our likes and dislikes. The same way teenagers are obsessed with which “fandom” they belong to, whether Taylor Swift, BTS, Justin Bieber, or whoever else, we find our identities in our social positions. We think people’s agreement or disagreement is a referendum on their smartness or goodness, because we think our position is a referendum on our own smartness and goodness. If our identities were more grounded in God and in real life relationships, I suspect we wouldn’t need the validation of others’ agreement.
It’s a matter of idolatry because it’s a way of participating in the full-fledged religion politics have become. Politics are where people go for their assurance. It’s where they go to feel they are doing good and making a difference. It’s the standard they use to judge the “righteous” and “unrighteous,” ultimately leading to this form of secular “disfellowship” in which one cuts off those who hold “unorthodox” views. It’s a false religion with a false God. True religion under the true God would lead us to realize the need to treat everyone with love – even our supposed worst enemies.
When you combine these heart issues with the majority/minority social dynamic, you have your recipe for division. Because everything has been politicized and everything has become a referendum on a person’s goodness/badness or intelligence/unintelligence rather than a matter of personal opinion, we’re one expressed opinion away from parting ways with those around us.
I wouldn’t be fulfilling my purpose with this article if I didn’t get specific, though. And as hard of a pill as this may be for some to swallow, it needs to be said:
The lion’s share of this blame must be placed on those who align with the prevailing cultural opinions – namely, opinions such as anti-Trump, pro-mask, pro-BLM, pro-mainstream narrative, and the like.
These are not all opinions held unilaterally, of course. But the Venn Diagram of people who hold each of these has some pretty strong overlap.
And the “majority” can be either side, depending on the situation. No one of any opinion is immune to this kind of divisiveness. But the math itself tells you the people with these opinions are more likely to have the backing of a perceived cultural majority, and it plays out in observable ways in real life.
This is the side that didn’t say a word when the Girl Scouts Twitter account mourned the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but shamed the account into deleting their tweet of congratulations toward Justice Amy Coney Barrett. This is the side that has created the phenomenon of “Shy Trump Voters,” people who skew the polls because they are afraid to say publicly that they support Donald Trump. This is the side who has their slogans shouted by major athletes and actors, but will “cancel” any public figure who disagrees with them.
For me, personal experience lines up closely with these things. I don’t have many conversations with openly pro-Trump people, even in Texas, because they’ve been taught to keep it to themselves. On the other hand, it’s a fairly common occurrence for someone to criticize him in front of me. Similarly, any anti-lockdown or anti-mask comments I’ve heard have come in confidence, usually preceded by a look over each shoulder. Pro-lockdown people have shown no hesitation to declare their support for the measures and their disapproval of their fellow citizens. In reality, they are far more prone to mimic the Stanford experiment officers and view it as their job to berate their fellow citizens (and/or Christians brethren).
(This is not to say that it doesn’t cut both ways. There are plenty of anti-mask, pro-Trump, pro-conspiracy, etc. people who feel comfortable enough in their social setting to assume everyone agrees with them and talk down to any who don’t. As somebody who lives in Texas, I’ve certainly had those conversations. But I can also say that these types are far more likely to allow someone to disagree with them without making it an issue.)
We’ve told the Trump supporters to be cautious in sharing their politics and their divisiveness. It’s time we tell the other side to grow some thicker skin and start loving people enough to agree to disagree. We’ve also told Trump supporters that their rationalization of his sins is driving away the lost. But you, too, are driving away the lost if you are unhesitant to slam any who don’t hold your opinion.
The Gospel call is not “Walk by faith in Jesus and reject Trump,” “Walk by faith in Jesus and believe the media,” or “Walk by faith in Jesus and reject QAnon,” or “Walk by faith in Jesus and agree with the government’s handling of COVID-19.” But, some have effectively made these things their Gospel call. They are willing to cast aspersion on and break fellowship with those who stand outside their new orthodoxy.
You might be horrified by each and every one of those positions and any position remotely like them, and that’s fine. You are allowed to be. (You may even be ready to write off or mark and avoid me for even mentioning those various positions… even though I didn’t say whether I agreed with any of them.) But if you’re a Christian, it’s flat out wrong to make them a dividing line between you and others.
It’s been said better by others before, but I’ll echo the sentiment: the answer can’t be to keep our opinions to ourselves and never discuss anything of consequence. The answer is to be able to have disagreements without hating each other or tearing each other down.
That means the divisive person isn’t the one who holds a different opinion. No, the divisive person is the one who won’t allow anybody around them to hold a different opinion. If somebody says “I support Trump” or “I don’t trust the media” or even “I know Black lives have equal value but I don’t agree with BLM” and you view that as so inflammatory that you need to take a step back in your friendship with them or hammer them for their opinion, YOU are the divisive one.
Don’t be that person, no matter how much majority backing you think you have. We’re supposed to look like Christ, not like Stanford experiment prison guards.