Stephanie Phillips A former New Yorker by way of Alabama who now lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two young sons. She is a pediatric dentist by trade and contributing writer to The Wheelhouse Review and Mockingbird in addition to her own blog, Plans in Pencil. When not writing, fixing teeth, or raising the next generation of men, she enjoys running, cooking, reading, and watching way too much TV and Netflix.
We are a nation of outrage.
Social media allows immediate documentation of this fact on a moment-by-moment basis. Over the past few years, I’ve both participated in and balked at the internet’s seemingly endless reflections of our populace’s anger, in everything from journal articles to personal blogs, comment sections to message boards. When I became a mother for the first time four years ago, I made the mistake of googling “sleep training” in a moment of exhausted curiosity; within seconds I found that I was a Nazi who didn’t deserve children. And also, wise.
With the grassroots motivational efforts that a free, fast connection to others provides, the web has become the birthplace of social movements. It seems to me that these movements have recently grown more extreme in nature; more “you’re either with us or against us” with drawing their lines in the sand.
Remember when Jesus drew lines in the sand? I don’t think this is what he had in mind.
Consider what has been demanded of people and organizations that have made mistakes or professed beliefs: Firings, boycotts, disavowals. We can no longer simply align ourselves with an opinion; now the opinion must also be wielded in a way that produces a specific action from the opposition. It’s not enough to agree to disagree; the disagreement must end with a winner who vanquishes the other. The examples read like an updated version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” without the fun rhyming:
One Million Moms and the Muppets
Trump and Miss Universe (see also: SNL picket line)
The View and The American Nurses Association
University of Missouri, Yale
Paula Deen and Hulk Hogan
And those are just the first few that popped into my head in the last minute, all of them casualties not ultimately of political correctness or liberalism or conservatism, but something deeper. Our need to be pronounced victors of the rhetoric game belies a hunger stronger than our ideals, for it often supplants what we say we believe in most. The truth is that this embracing of extremes, these demands for behavioral modification from the other side? None of it is about what really matters. If our anger is stronger than our love, then we must look at what is fueling each—or, more importantly, what is not. Why are we so invested in changing the behavior of others? Is the integrity of our own argument not enough to stand on its own? Tim Keller, author and pastor of NYC’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, writes, “Even in democratic western cultures, the groups who have held the reins of cultural power have always excluded and silenced unpopular voices and minority viewpoints not simply as mistaken but as despicable and beyond the pale.”
I think that when politics trump the gospel—and I speak from experience—it’s a sign that we’re suffering from a sickness only Good News can cure.
Yelling over another person, being the last to get a word in, walking away from the table—these are qualities of battle, not resolution. Not all conflicts will end in peace, but believers are called to be agents of reconciliation, not stirrers of outrage. If I feel my need to be right is pushing out my ability to see the humanity in another, then I’m not letting grace have its way with me. And this is never the will of God.
Very few of us are being called on now to make military decisions, participate in presidential debates, or individually protect homeland security. This frees up our time for more seemingly mundane yet kingdom-oriented efforts: Forming relationships. Extending grace as we receive it ourselves. Hearing others out. Disagreement can be fertile ground for growth and understanding, even relationship—but only if we hold on to our arguments more loosely than we cling to the gospel. Jesus stepped toward the tax collector, the prostitute, the sinner, before he suggested a better way they might be doing things. Consequently, his heavenly banquet table will be full of people we were convinced were The Other Side. We might as well learn to break bread now, even before we agree on everything.