“This House Guarded by SHOTGUN 3 Nights per Week. YOU GUESS WHICH THREE!” – Sign posted at a front door
With the intensity of anger rising daily, this statement captures the atmosphere in America today. Where there was once a general sense of civility in public discourse, the new norm is to brandish your sword, protest with vitriol and lambast your opponents.
My wife just attended a meeting in Nashville on upcoming legislative issues. An attorney shared how last week irate LGBTQ proponents shut down a similar meeting with shouting and screaming.
Barring some divine intervention or catastrophic event that could pull us together, tensions won’t simply dissolve. This reality is extremely unhealthy and the trajectory unmistakable.
Musician Charlie Daniels said days ago, “It’s only a matter of time before there is blood on the streets.”
News commentator Bill O’Reilly lamented, “I’ve never seen America more hateful – even worse than the Vietnam era. It’s worse!” (2/15/17).
Immigrants’, women’s and employee’s “walk outs” occur; celebrities galvanize their followers for “resistance;” the press is up in arms; man-on-the-street interviews deliver ugly, “bleeped” rants from hostile people, some even suggesting civil war!
Incendiary “fake news” stories about “banning all Muslims” or “rounding up all immigrants” inflame the situation. Trump calls out news outlets publicly, being confrontational rather than conciliatory. It’s unprecedented!
Young people, growing up in this environment, think lashing out is the norm. This avalanche of outrage, belittling and haranguing is damaging the soul of our nation.
Freedom of Speech?
Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech”
Iconic artist, Norman Rockwell, painted the classic “Freedom of Speech.” The Saturday Evening Post published it after an inspirational speech by President Roosevelt on America’s “four essential human freedoms.”
Author Bob Green, penned an article entitled “Ode to Civil Discourse” in the Wall Street Journal (2/10/17) describing it this way, “The setting is a town meeting. One man, in work clothes, has risen from the audience to speak. There is nervousness, and courage, in his eyes; Rockwell makes it evident that the man is likely not accustomed to talking in public. Other citizens of the town, the men in coats and ties, are in the seats around him. Their eyes are focused upward, toward him. They are hearing him out; they are patiently letting him have his say.”
Mr. Green went on to say this is “disappearing in this era when angry words hurtle past each other like poison-tipped arrows.”
This coarsening of our culture presents an opportunity for the Church to arise with the alternative! We have a magnificent chance to demonstrate what it means to be preservative “salt” amidst the decay.
Altering the Atmosphere
Years ago my wife and I spent time in Birmingham, Alabama, once “America’s Most Racist City.” In the 60s, Dr. King and Christians changed a situation on the edge of exploding after four little black girls were killed in a reprehensible church bombing.
They remarkably refused to get caught up in the anger, yet they didn’t disconnect which eventually brought change.
Across from the church is a park where a memorial stands revealing the secret. It depicts individuals humbling themselves in prayer. These words are inscribed, “May men learn to replace bitterness and violence with love and understanding.”
1. Show Humility
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God… “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jam.1:19-20; 4:6).
Weeks ago, I carelessly offended a woman when I joked, “I hear Trump put you on his Cabinet!” The humor backfired. She reacted, “He’s a bigot! I’d never do that!”
I sheepishly exited the awkward moment with a gulp.
Later I went back to Jess, humbled myself and asked forgiveness for my insensitivity. As soon as I did, she teared up, winced and told me that she’s going through a personal tragedy and should never have reacted like that. She then hugged me! And to my astonishment, she agreed there’s bigotry on all sides as we cited Hillary’s “deplorables” remark and Obama’s “clinging to their guns and religion” mockery of Christians.
2. Stay Calm
“Stay Calm and Carry On” appears on T-shirts today. Scripture says it similarly, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15). The day after writing this commentary, Wall Street journalist Peggy Noonan wrote her column under this headline: “The White House Needs an Injection of Calm.” (2/18/17)
Weeks ago as I entered a roundabout a pickup truck darted in ahead of me. Slamming the brake to avert a collision, anger arose at the “idiot” breaking the law.
Hours later I pulled into our shopping plaza and the careless young driver pulled in right next to me! As I approached the driver side with a smile and politely motioned for him to roll down the window, he nervously admitted he was the culprit and braced himself for a tongue-lashing tirade.
Instead he ended up flabbergasted as I calmly mentioned the occurrence and pardoned him “the same way Christ pardoned me.” He accepted my personal testimony tract and sat stunned as I offered to buy him lunch!
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat…for you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Prv. 25:21-22).
3. Seize Opportunities
“Walk in wisdom towards those who are outside, wisely using the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you should answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6).
This passage is the foundation for the “Bullseye Challenge” initiative; helping Christians address confidently and charitably today’s 30 controversial issues. It’s needed today more than ever!
Here’s the Deal: Animosity in America is not merely temporary turbulence. Demonic forces have been unleashed that are working aggressively to thwart the spiritual awakening God is initiating in our day. We must neither get caught up in the anger nor disconnect from the challenge.
Like the early church facing threats and hostility, let’s bring healing as we pray, “Now, Lord, look on their threats and grant that Your servants may speak Your word with great boldness, by stretching out Your hand to heal and that signs and wonders may be performed in the name of Your holy Son Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).
Let’s rise to the occasion for what can be the Church’s finest hour!