Why Our Divisions Are Deeper Than Ever
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- 2022 Jan 12
President Biden delivered a speech on voting rights in Atlanta yesterday afternoon. He called for the Senate to amend its filibuster rules to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which the Washington Post describes as restoring “the federal government’s authority to review certain state voting laws to prevent discrimination,” and the Freedom to Vote Act, which the Post calls “a broader bill that would create national rules for voting by mail, early voting, and other parts of the electoral process.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell disagrees with the Democrats’ efforts to amend the filibuster, of course. He threatens to place a spate of Republican-backed bills on the legislative calendar in response, stating, “Since Sen. Schumer is hell-bent on trying to break the Senate, Republicans will show how this reckless action would have immediate consequences.”
So, which side is right?
Your answer probably depends on which side is yours.
Why the founders intended political conflict
Why does your answer depend on your side?
Because “sides” are an intentional part of our governance. Humor me with a very brief Civics 101 overview.
America is not a true “democracy.” If it were, the majority would win every argument. Rather, we are a republic in which the minority has guaranteed rights as well. We have therefore chosen to govern ourselves through political leaders we elect to represent us. Members of the House of Representatives represent geographical districts within the various states; members of the Senate represent the states that elected them; and the president represents the entire nation.
Our elected officials are supposed to advocate for us as if we were in Washington advocating for ourselves. When you wish the government would do something I wish it would not do, our representatives are supposed to find compromises that advance the common good in a collective manner. But when my position cancels yours, as is the case for so many of our issues today, compromise becomes difficult to find.
For example, evangelical Christians have First Amendment religious liberty protection to lead their ministries according to their biblical convictions with regard to LGBTQ issues, or they do not. (The so-called Equality Act says they do not.) Abortion on demand is either a constitutionally guaranteed “privacy right” or it is not. (The Supreme Court will rule on this question later this year.)
Why our divisions are deeper than ever
Add the fact that fewer Americans than ever before trust the “other side” to do the right thing. For instance, CNN reports that the percentage of Americans who strongly dislike the opposition party has risen by 400 percent in the last two decades.
Social media plays an outsized role here as well. Christianity Today public theologian Russell Moore recently pointed readers to a relevant article by Robert Wright, who in turn quoted psychologist Leon Festinger: “People who make public commitments to a position are going to be motivated to bolster it. They’re going to become better and better at generating reasons why they’re right and their would-be critics are wrong.”
As Wright then observes, this is a greater problem than ever. Thirty years ago, it was difficult to make such public commitments. You had to get on television or radio, get a book or article published, and so on. Now anyone with a cell phone can be “on stage.” They can (and often do) voice their opinions on any subject they wish to address. And once they do, they become hardened in defending their position against its critics. And they are more likely to build “echo chambers” whereby they listen only to those who agree with them.
Rather than the consensual process of compromise for the greater good that our founders envisioned, we have a “zero-sum” battle of adversaries who can win only if the other side loses.
Why the God of the Bible is relevant today
Why is the God of the Bible uniquely relevant to such a conflicted culture?
Because this God loves “the world” (John 3:16). He proved it when he chose us long before we chose him: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Whatever your position on abortion, this God loves you. Whatever your thoughts about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ activism, he loves you. Even if you reject his love or deny his existence, he loves you.
Unlike any other supposed deity or entity in the universe, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, my emphasis). Because he is love by his intrinsic nature, there is literally nothing you can do to make him love you any more or less than he does at this moment.
Furthermore, the God of Scripture calls his followers to follow his example: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
Why our faith is vital to America’s future
This is why a spiritual awakening is so urgent for America’s future. Consensual governance requires consensual morality. If we cannot agree on our most fundamental goods and rights (or even if there are fundamental goods and rights), how can we govern ourselves accordingly?
Our founders knew that, as John Adams stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He noted that “the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality.”
And he warned, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.”
Is this what we are witnessing today?
Will you ask God’s Spirit to fill you with God’s love even (and especially) for those with whom you disagree?
Will you ask him to help you use your influence to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) wherever and however you can today?
Will you be part of the problem, or will you be part of the solution to the glory of God?
Publication date: January 12, 2022
Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/3Dgenerator
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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