How can we be peacemakers in a culture so filled with outrage and contention?
There is a rise of outrage today in culture. Outrage is exhausting. It’s draining. Outrage takes a psychological and physical toll on us. And yet it seems we can’t live without it. It becomes a kind of addiction.
On some level people enjoy getting outraged. It makes the them feel that they’re on the right side. It helps them feel that they are bonding with others who have similar views. But when a group of people are continually in “outrage mode” it’s really very, very unhealthy—and almost seems normal. What I’m talking about is the “outrage culture.”
We live in a culture where anything you say is misconstrued and at least one person or group takes offense to it. Once that individual or group speaks out, the public mob is out to put your head on a pike. It’s eroding our interactions, our relationships and our society.
Heather Wilhelm, in an article for the Chicago Tribune writes:
“For a frightening number of people, the art of being offended by everything—or, even better, loudly and publicly complaining about being offended by everything—is pursued with alarming dedication. For some, being offended is practically a credo and an all-encompassing way of life.”
There is a difference between participating in a culture of outrage and having firm convictions. Jesus calls Christians to respond differently to a hateful world, commanding us to refuse retaliation and instead extend grace to our enemies. This is a different ethic than what we are used to, but Jesus modeled it. Jesus lived with a completely different set of standards.
The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most famous portion of Scripture in the Bible. Specifically, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out a completely different manner of living for his disciples. It’s a way of life that is countercultural to the world’s mentality and emotions. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his disciples on how to deal with a world that is antagonistic, unwelcoming, mean-spirited and wants to take advantage of them. And his simple instruction is this:
Turn the other cheek.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” —Matthew 5:38–42
The Jewish law created equity with this “eye for an eye” ruling. But the purpose of the law was never to give license to inflict as much pain on someone as you thought they had inflicted upon you. Instead, Jesus calls his followers to a completely different standard in their personal dealings with others. The Jewish law was concerned with people’s actions. Jesus’ commands surpass a person’s actions and go far deeper, into the person’s heart.
Instead of using the law as an excuse for personal vengeance, Jesus commands those who are citizens of his kingdom to refuse retaliation when treated poorly. In an “outrage culture” sometimes silence can speak louder than yelling back. Yelling back often places undeserved importance on the object of our outrage. Before long, our priorities can become as distorted as those of the broader culture, and we begin to believe our narrative of offense. The result is we spend our time fighting for the wrong things.
There are times to be furious. You can be “angry and not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Probably one of the best examples of this is when Jesus flipped tables in the temple. After making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with crowds cheering and palm branches waving, Jesus “went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it” (Luke 19:45–46). Was Jesus showing the first signs of “outrage culture?” Hardly. It was righteous indignation. Why such a display of anger? Because the people engaged in temple commerce were keeping others from God. They had a “financial racket” going. They were finding fault with the sacrificial animals the people brought in and then sold them an “approved” animal at an inflated price. And this made Jesus angry. If you’re a normal human, that should make you angry. As Christians, we should speak out against injustice, but there is a difference between speaking out against injustice and getting in a Twitter fight where two different camps of people belittle each other in order to try and prove their point.
Refusing to retaliate is not an excuse to be passive or avoid people. Jesus’ words are not a call to disengage. They are a command to go the extra mile instead. It was common under Roman occupation during Jesus’ day for soldiers to demand that citizens carry their pack. This is what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers to go that extra mile.
For this idea to have its full effect, we must remember Roman soldiers were part of an occupying authority. They were an oppressive political power, and one that many Jews were desiring to overthrow. In fact, several attempts had already been made in Jesus’ day to start a rebellion against the Romans. Jesus tells his disciples to do something countercultural concerning the opposing political party. Not only were they to submit to the request to carry the pack, they were to exceed the expected distance. Do not just do what is expected of you to fulfill the obligation, Jesus tells them, instead do something that can only be explained by a genuine love for the person doing you wrong.
Instead of returning insult for insult, go out of your way to return kindness instead. Instead of getting drawn into the outrage, let us live a better story. I’m fully aware that it’s not easy. It’s especially hard when we have those in charge over us but we don’t agree with them politically, socially, relationally, spiritually, etc. So, how do we honor those God has put in our lives when we don’t agree with them? Here some suggestions:
1. Stop Labeling Each Other and Start Learning From Each Other.
Christians can fall into the trap of dishonoring others whose political beliefs or ideas are different. Left-leaning Christians engage in rhetoric that labels our right-leaning authorities as anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-immigrant and so on. Right-leaning Christians can label our democratic friends on the left as anti-capitalist, anti-white, anti-baby, anti-cop, etc. What if we labeled each other as human beings? What if we saw each other as creations of God? That label gives us a starting point to engage with others that isn’t political, but personal to God. It gives us permission to accept each other despite our political positions so we can listen to each other rather than scream at each other. Pursue the right perspective of each other before pursuing the right to push back against each other. Your perspective of who you are is the best starting point to engage others where they are.
2. Disagreeing Doesn’t Mean Being Dishonorable.
When the actions of those in authority disagree with your view of what leaders should do, you have a choice to make. Young David, an up-and-coming leader became successful and did everything right with those around him, even with those who were in authority over him. King Saul, a political and spiritual leader to whom David reported, chose to be irrational and dysfunctional to the point of wanting to kill David. How would you honor a man who relentlessly sought to kill you?
David had an understanding that God puts kings in charge, and he knew that God had established Saul as king (1 Sam. 9:15–16). While Saul was his political leader, David’s honor for Saul was seen through his “honor lens” every day. Every response by David toward Saul’s rants revealed to others how much David loved God by how much he honored Saul. David spared Saul’s life in the cave (1 Sam. 24:4–22) and again on the field of war while Saul was sleeping (1 Sam. 26:1–12) until finally this irrational ruler was defeated in battle and fell upon his own sword. David not only grieved his death, prayed and fasted, but wrote a song about his fallen leadership (2 Sam. 1:17–27). Instead of recounting all of Saul’s weaknesses, the song he wrote actually recounted his honor. Whenever possible, show respect for those in charge no matter how crazy they can sound (and maybe even write a song about them).
3. Engage With Maturity; Don’t Expel With Immaturity.
It’s hard when we don’t get our own way. My kids have taught me that. They throw a tantrum, hit, throw and scream. That’s what immaturity fosters. Maturity provokes civility, conversation and peaceful discourse. Often, when we choose to riot, rebel and resist, it communicates a message to others that is immature. God wants us to be mature as Christians—not just mature but “Christlike.”
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone.
“He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” —1 Peter 2:21–23
It’s tempting to bully or launch a tweetstorm from behind your keyboard, but it would be far more valuable to donate your time, financial contributions or professional skill set to organize your community (life group, small group, Facebook group, book club, etc.) and find where you can be a resource of information and a steward of conversation. Many people feel like they can’t get involved because they don’t know where to start. Just find a door of opportunity and start the conversation.
4. Instead Of Creating Walls, Create Opportunities.
Jesus chose to go into difficult places, not avoid them. He was seen with the marginalized, the broken and the hurting. He was a friend of drunks, sexual deviants, outcasts, etc. He was more pro-woman than any political figure in history considering the context of the first century. He was more “politically right” with his beliefs about Scripture, loving the religious, supporting the Roman military and leading with charity. He also was more “politically left” with the way he chose to love: Jesus fed the hungry, reached out cross-culturally, identified with the poor, loved the religious and fought for the outsider. He chose to live by breaking down walls. When we break down walls and come together with those who are different than we are, we show the world that we are his disciples and that Jesus is who he said he is (John 17).
5. Live in the ‘In-Between.’
The in-between is that space between the extremes of faith and politics. Here’s what I mean. Take Matthew and Simon. These are two of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus recruited Simon the Zealot (essentially and anti-government, religious radical) to be on his team and Matthew (a Roman government employee). Jesus showed us all that two people on polar opposites of the political spectrum can live and love in community together. We will always be surrounded by these two sides: those who “share my faith but don’t agree with my politics” and those who “share my political view but don’t agree with my faith.” How you live in the in-between will determine how you honor.
6. Pump the Breaks on Conditional Honoring.
We are quick to dismiss others who don’t agree with our political views, parenting views, etc. We seem to have drifted into a conversational norm of “I will respect you if you respect me, but if we disagree then forget you!” People are going to disagree with you. Simply writing them off and calling them a name or putting a label on them doesn’t make us better as a community. Just because you don’t agree with them doesn’t mean they aren’t human. God wants us to honor all people (1 Pet. 2:17). Honor is not an emotional response, but rather is meant to be a humble response. Even Jesus who was being dishonored by everyone around him—who was deserving of honor but received none—chose the higher road, and we should too:
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names.” —Philippians 2:3–9
7. Submission to Authorities, not Subversion of Authorities.
Imagine being forced to live under political leadership you didn’t vote for and completely despised. Some of us would say, “Lived it for 8 years” and some would say “Living it right now.” In Daniel, four young and ambitious leaders found themselves living under and working under an administration that was different than what they believed in. The administration was enforcing rules that were against the convictions these young people believed. Rather than rebelling and resisting, these young people took a different approach: They honored their leadership in regard to the expectations, the rules and regulations they didn’t agree with:
“[Daniel] asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. … Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them 10 times more capable.” —Daniel 1:8–9, 20
The result of responding the right way gave them more political and relational clout than they ever could have imagined. Instead of just protesting and screaming at the sky, what if we chose to have rational discourse with those in charge over us? We may have the right to protest, but is it the right thing to do right now in your disagreement?
8. Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes.
You probably don’t know what it’s like to be going through what they are going through. We don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. So do your best to gain understanding. That’s wisdom according to God:
“The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.” —Proverbs 4:7
So try to understand where the other is coming from. This will not only build a bridge, but will help calm the waters as you empathize.
9. Before You Say It, Pray It.
I’m guilty of just speaking what I’m feeling. Before you engage with someone or in something, give it some time in prayer. It’s there you will get God’s heart for your situation and for that person. It’s a lot easier for you to see where they are coming from when you see how God sees them in prayer.
10. It’s Not About Being Political, But Being Gospel Focused.
Gospel means “good news.” So be a bringer of “good news” not “bad news” or “fake news.” You can’t have the gospel without grace. We need the graciousness of God. So be a gracious person. Graciousness is one of the most potent postures you can make when engaging with others. Graciousness overrules combativeness at the end of the day. The Bible says this about graciousness:
“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” —Colossians 4:5–6
I would define graciousness as this: having a forgiving attitude and a compassionate position while walking in wisdom with those whose attitudes and beliefs differ from yours. So be gracious toward others.
11. Gain Understanding.
Conflict is often rooted in misunderstanding where others around you are coming from. When a conflict arises, rather than trying to gain understanding, we are often trying to win the argument. Stephen Covey speaks to this in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when he says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” So guard yourself against assuming. If you’re going to assume something, assume the best about that person and not the worst. When you believe the best about someone, you can’t help but draw closer and draw from them.
12. Consider Others Better Than Yourself.
Remember, according to Jesus, everyone has equal value. No human is better than another. That’s a hard attitude to have and to be consistent with. But Jesus held true to that by having this attitude: Consider others better than yourself. The Bible says it best in Philippians 2:3–6:
“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges.” —Philippians 2:3–6
13. Have Conversations, Not Confrontations.
We’ve seen enough confrontation to last us a lifetime. So let’s start having conversations. That means it is a two-sided dialogue. So be a potent listener. Listening shows more power and grace than you can imagine. We have to listen in order to be listened to, which means don’t come in to the argument simply telling me just what to think or what you think but ask me what I think. How you say it is just as important as what you say. Stop trying so hard to be convincing and start by being inviting. Don’t see barriers but opportunities. Choose to rally around themes that can do the most good: love, honor, peace, humility, kindness, forgiveness and hope.
14. Practice Peacemaking.
That means you need to be intentional to bring peace to people, places and discussions. This is not a peace that is fabricated, but a peace that is faith-related. This is a peace that is not manipulated with the right substance or the right circumstance, but a peace that is magnified as a person. This is a supernatural peace, a godly peace, that has nothing to do with human beings or human circumstances. In fact, it can’t be produced by anyone but it can be found by everyone. This peace is a person. It’s Jesus. He is called the Prince of Peace, and he crushed evil like no one else could (Rom. 16:20). So the closer you are to Jesus, the closer you are to peace. Jesus doesn’t get stressed out, worry or get afraid, but lives in perfect contentment. You can too.
15. Be a Good Neighbor.
I know we already said it, but we can’t say it enough: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. True joy is not found in pursuing our own desires, but fulfilling the desires of others. So we choose to keep our doors open and our lives open as good neighbors to create a better community. Acceptance is more palatable to culture than resistance, so we choose to accept people where they are and influence people toward Jesus. So we follow the advice of Jesus:
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” —Hebrews 10:24
At the end of the day, isn’t it less about proving you’re right or wrong and more about seeing others draw closer to the unconditional love of Jesus?
This article originally appeared on AlanPastian.com.