I try to keep Average Us focused on the intersection of Christian faith and emotional health becuase I’m a Christian with a wife and children who suffer with various degrees of emotional health challenges. Some labels you know: anxiety, depression, panic disorder, bi-polar; some you may not: dysautonomia, cyclothymia.
We live, we trust, we pray, we manage. Dawn and I share morning and bedtime prayer and Scripture meditation as a life routine. This is a good habit of Christian spiritual life, but we also rely on it as part of a mindful, faith-filled defence against the unpredictable challenges Dawn’s brain chemistry can present. I remain constantly wary for the signs which indicate my support is needed in some way or other.
Because of this, I can’t help but be alert to the emotional trends I observe in myself, in others, and in our culture broadly. And I’m saddened by what I see in America right now.
Let’s just say it: America is having a political and cultural panic attack. This should be obvious to you regardless of who you voted for. (Full disclosure: I voted for a write-in candidate). I cannot remember a time when more anxious attention was given to what the President would do, or say, or tweet next. The mood seems to be in turns anxious, fearful, depressed, angry, disgusted, or hateful. In these moods, critical thinking, nuanced commentary, and guarded response frequently get kicked to the curb. Divisions widen. Resentments deepen.
America is having a political and cultural panic attack.
But please don’t think that because I compared America’s current mood swing to a panic attack that I think all of this anxiety has no rational basis. It certainly does.
As a suburban, Christian, white male with a white collar job I must honestly recognize the privilege that circumstance has laid at my door. I must recognize that Trump’s Presidency is unlikely to do me much harm (or much good). But, many others may reasonably fear this won’t be their experience.
So, I would ask you who supported Trump’s candidacy to join me in an exercise of empathy for a moment. What might it feel like to be female with a Trump presidency? Or black? Or Hispanic? Or poor? An immigrant? A Lesbian? A Muslim? A native American? A Spanish speaker? So far, Trump has demonstrated in both personal and political forms that he is a threat to these groups. This is not to mention Trump’s affect on political allies, foreign and domestic, as well as trade partners. His supporters championed him as an agent of change, but what we have from him so far is chiefly unpredictability. Unpredictability breeds anxiety. He seems to delight in keeping everyone off balance, on their back foot. Even his closest counselors must race to manage the chaos he leaves in his wake. The only thing predictable about his presidency so far is that he is behaving like a man who is used to, and loves, to wield power. I might add that Americans have traditionally prefered presidents who gave at least the impression that power was a burden, not a delight.
Unpredictability breeds anxiety.
If we can succeed at empathy at all–what people call emotional intelligence these days–we must factor this into how we speak about the role of government, taxes, the wealth gap, climate change, immigration policy, abortion, health care, gay marriage, the justice system, the war on terror, and America’s place in the world. Whether you are anxious, or ambivelant, or animated about Trump’s presidency, empathy for people who feel threatened must color how we speak to, and speak of, those who don’t share our political convictions.
Here are a few simple ways we can all demonstrate empathy (closely related to the Christian virtues of justice and mercy) for others in these anxious times. These practices won’t ensure that your point of view wins the day, but they will go a long way to toward earning you the respect of an honest hearing.
1. Don’t sloganize.
Slogans rarely tell the whole truth. They often over-simplify and misrepresent an issue while mistreating the opposition. Slogans can demonstrate a lack of respect for the intelligence of others, and invite others to diminish you to the level of an opposing slogan.
2. Don’t demonize.
The other side isn’t the incarnation of evil. Or, at least, let us have the humility to admit that the other guy isn’t any more evil and self-interested than me. Demonizing is the meat-and-potatoes of much political media commentary. So, be selective about who you lend your ears to. Your brain deserves multiple sources with different perspectives.
3. Don’t call names.
Conservatives and liberals brand each other with the same labels: hypocrite, idiot, moron. But, it’s a commonly understood social dynamic that those who use such words fail to prove their point, and only make the audience think of the speaker in a dimmer light. So, let’s be smarter than that.
4. Don’t make assumptions.
We almost never clearly understand the motivations and biases and activities of the other guy. When we assume and pigeon-hole the other guy, we only come off sounding self-righteous, judgmental, and smarter-than-thou. This runs the risk of transforming a valid, intelligent point into a patronizing put-down.
5. Don’t burn a straw man.
It’s all to easy to misconstrue what the other wants or believes or is motivated by, and then attack the belief or motivation no one holds. Be sure to study what you don’t agree with enough to understand what you are arguing against. Let us try to be rationale about our views and the views of others. Answer point with counterpoint.
Be sure to study what you don’t agree with enough to understand what you are arguing against.
6. Do defend the vulnerable.
The Bible is full of references to the ethical duty of the powerful to defend the cause of the fatherless, the widow, the poor, and the alien. (See Jeremiah 5:27-28 for example). We are warned repeatedly in the Bible that all we have is gift. It is not our due, not merely the result of our personal industry. So those who are in a more vulnerable position than us always deserve our support and defense, regardless of who they are. We can “pay it forward” by giving, serving, mentoring, feeding, sponsoring, and healing. We can defend by making our voices heard: Write. Speak. Raise money. March. By all means, let each do all we can.
7. Do love your neighbor.
You know Christ’s golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You don’t need to be a Christian to obey this; every religion on earth shares some form of this ethic. You’ve been taught it in various forms since your youth. So, it should be easy, right? But it’s not. It takes a thick skin because you’ve been wronged repeatedly. It’s takes humility because you can’t understand how those “idiots” can believe that crap. It takes courage because it makes you vulnerable to attack.
In fact, it’s the hardest thing you can do, because it takes actual, genuine love, even love for those you consider your enemy. Can you do that? Would you do that? Only someone who has received an undeserved and unconditional love would ever do that. And we all have.
8. Don’t mix politics and religion.
Finally, I offer this advice to Christians: Whatever good or harm President Trump achieves must not be cast as a “Christian” achievement in any way. The American Church of the 80s and 90s allowed itself to become too closely identified with the politics of the day, and in the process we distorted the message and mission of Christ to an entire generation. In my experience, I have found that more people reject the Christianity we have protrayed than the real Christ we worship.
If you claim Christ, please address our present anxiety in light of this succinct Christian worldview:
Christ is King and by His cross is redeeming a people for Himself out of every nation. He also governs the rise and fall of all nations–including the United States–and will hold every nation to account. The government will be upon His shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6).
So, there is no Christian nation; there is only the Christian Church redeemed out of every nation. The King demands allegiance to Him above our nationalism and politicals, and offers a hope beyond the rise and fall of political fortune to all who will trust in Him.
Christ is King and is redeeming a people for Himself out of every nation.
I hope you were helped by this article. It was written to share one Christian man’s perspective on our national mood. I harbor no illusion that it will solve much in our world. But, I hope it will help you, reader. And, I hope I may live up to it.
If you want to leave a comment about the views expressed here please do. However, any defense of, or attack on, any political view or political figure will be deleted.