Turning Down the Heat

By Jelani Greenidge

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Portland is known for its pleasant summers, but this year was a scorcher. I was planning to just grit and power through, but when the weather forecast showed ten days of temps in the upper nineties, I relented and bought an A/C unit at Home Depot.

My justification to my wife sounded something like this: “If we had a problem with the car and it cost $300 to fix, we’d just do it, right? Well, this situation is just as dire. When it’s this hot and I’m supposed to be working from home, I can’t do it. It’s like I can’t even concentrate. All I can think about it how ugly and sweaty and uncomfortable I feel.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that admission of heat-related exhaustion also doubled as a metaphor for our current climate of public debate. The most recent example of this is the Supreme Court’s decision regarding same sex marriage, but last year it was Hobby Lobby and next year it’ll be something else.

Either way, it’s easy to predict how people will respond to such emotionally charged issues. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds will proliferate with articles full of hot takes and takedowns.

After decades of partisan political media coverage, we’ve been conditioned to behave as though “taking a stand” is a euphemism for “taking shots at our ideological opponents and inviting our friends to join in and pile on.” When that happens, we stop talking to one another and start talking at one another. Spirited debate regresses into name-calling, bullying, stereotyping, etc.

When it comes to social media, it’s rare to see people who can disagree in civil fashion, and I’ve grown tired of trying to be gracious in the face of belligerent arguing.

It got to the point where, half-jokingly, I posted a public service announcement on Facebook to let people know that, due to the abundance of available reading material, I was not planning on writing anything about same sex marriage on my blog. Most people “liked” it, but one friend accused me of wimping out. In response, I said something that I’m not sure he had even considered up to that point—some opinions and discussions aren’t well served hashed out on social media.

Which is not to say that the medium is the problem. Facebook is only the latest front in the campaign of never-ending skirmishes we tend to refer to as “the culture war.” Even writing about it in this space is risky, but the only alternative is not talking about it at all, and that’s one of the reasons we’re in this mess in the first place.

When it comes to public discourse, we can do better. And as the body of Christ, we must do better.

If you’re a Christian who holds a traditional view of marriage as only for one man and one woman, and you can’t imagine how someone else could think differently, you have a choice. Are you going to listen to those with different experiences? Or are you going to engage in rhetorical hand-wringing because the broader culture is moving in a different direction?

On the flipside, if you’re a Christian in favor of full inclusion of gay rights, the broader church body isn’t served well if you only serve up defensive comments and vitriolic articles. Don’t throw the word “bigot” around too carelessly. Make your case lovingly and biblically.

The principle applies to health-care reform, gun control, immigration rights, and affirmative action. As believers, we can disagree in a way that helps promote growth and understanding, or we can allow our disagreements to become corrosive and divisive. Unfortunately, just like the air during a heat wave, our current cultural climate has conditioned us to respond to disagreement with escalation and rancor. Because of sin, this has become our default setting.

But it doesn’t have to be. If we want true dialogue, if we want to regard one another as human beings created in imago Dei, we’ve gotta find a way to turn down the heat.

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4 Comments

  1. Excellent, well-chosen words. Partisanism in the church is weakening it– a sad state of affairs today. Turning down the heat is a great way to start working out the knots.

  2. Thank you, Jelani, for these excellent, timely, incisive words of wisdom. We’d all do well to listen to you (and this) more often. Keep speaking God’s truth to God’s people.

  3. And we can even disagree on what a “Christian” is can’t we ? We were all made in the image of God but not necessarily all “children of God”.

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