I write this first and foremost to my church, to those I know and love, to those who claim Christ and display it with their lives. While I would love to extend this plea to Christians more broadly, my responsibility and my heart go first to the health, love and witness of Roots Church.
At a moment like this in our history (debates over lockdowns/masks, a contentious election, debates over racial justice, the first storming of our capital in 200 years, dire predictions of the future) the stakes are indeed high…but not perhaps in the way you might think.
You see, the message being communicated from so many places, from across the political spectrum is: the stakes are high…thus you must be outraged, fearful, distrustful of others, unwilling to compromise, unwilling to admit any defeat, always ready to weaken the “enemy,” always looking for hypocrisy in those on the other side (but ignoring it on our own). Because the stakes are so high, we are encouraged to create a black and white world of “sinners” and “saints,” of workers of evil and defenders of good.
The goal of most news sources (“mainstream” or otherwise), the goal of social media, and the goal of many political/cultural voices is to stoke these kinds of passions. And more concerning, many voices in the church have merely adopted this tactic. They have (rightly) seen that there are matters of truth and justice involved, but (I would argue) assumed a response unbefitting Christians.
What if: The stakes are high…thus, be reasonable, gentle, kind, peaceable, not quarrelsome.
All of these are commands straight from the Bible. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). The Greek word translated “reasonableness” means kind, tolerant, gentle, accommodating, generous, fair.
It is used four other times in Scripture, including in Titus 3:2, where Paul exhorts believers to “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
There is rampant temptation to ignore or downplay such characteristics, especially in a time like this. Reasonable, gentle candidates aren’t likely to get elected. Reasonable, gentle pleas aren’t likely to make much buzz (and are likely to get you labeled as soft, compromising). A reasonable, gentle disposition has little examples to follow after.
But if such a disposition is commanded of believers, it seems like it is especially needed in a time like this. Because the stakes are high, but not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of witnessing. The urgent matter for those who claim Christ is not one of winning, in the sense of winning arguments, getting or maintaining power and influence and respect (in fact, God is more interested in our weaknesses, powerlessness, inabilities, see 1 Cor. 1-2; 2 Cor. 12).
No, the urgent matter for those who claim Christ is one of witnessing: giving witness to the reality, authority, power, goodness and loving kindness of God. Giving witness to God’s power at work in us. Giving witness to God’s peace dwelling in us. Giving witness to the realities and priorities of God’s kingdom: the making of disciples through the proclamation of God’s word.
And yes, this includes defending and making arguments for truth and justice: for the dignity of the unborn, for the dignity of people of color, for the biblical meaning of gender and marriage, for justice in our legal systems. But the rightness of the cause doesn’t justify ungodly methods. For the Christian, the ends never justify any and all means.
And the reason is very simple: God is sovereign, and is not threatened by the temporary weaknesses and losses of his people or causes. God’s victory and vindication are already won and secure. And thus, our victory and vindication (if we belong to him) are already won and secure. This is why part of the reason Paul (and we) can be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10).
To put this all together: Our goal should not be winning (in the worldly, temporal sense), but witnessing. We are not promised any amount of power, influence or respect in this world (quite the opposite), but we are promised that faithfulness will be worth it in the end.
Let us be intent to be a faithful people, no matter what. And let our faithfulness include, among other things, a radical and unexpected reasonableness, gentleness and kindness.