Click here for the audio version read by Cheryl. contempt-culture.mp3
Bam! The crack of the gavel echoes through the chamber as the judge rules “contempt”. Depending on the situation, there may be penalties assigned. But interaction and negotiation stop, the conversation ceases. Societally this is increasingly how we function, each of us a judge with our own set of courtroom rules. Disagreement is not allowed, or worse yet, considered a personal attack which warrants caustic response. Conversation is killed and everyone loses. How should we respond as believers?
I remember a scene from a historical miniseries where the decision about revolution was being debated. The debate was passionate and heated. Colliding ideas were dissected. Then afterwards those on opposing sides would socialize together – people who had clashing viewpoints about a monumental issue. They realized their actions would profoundly affect their own fortunes as well as many others’ and shape their collective future, so they gave their viewpoints the strongest possible presentation. As they were in the trenches wrestling for the best course of action, an ideal emerged out of the controversy. They hammered it out, for the most part without becoming personal enemies. Reason and ideas were esteemed. Their intellects were not conquered by their emotions. Revolution had not been a foregone conclusion. We very easily could be saying “God save the queen’ today instead of singing the national anthem.
It seems that every generational transition brings with it at least a revisiting, if not a rejection, of the values it inherited. This is a healthy exercise with the potential of progress. Inspection gives opportunity to disassociate with the ‘sins of the fathers’ and to tweak the changes that the previous rebels (in their day) initiated. It all goes awry in the grey area of transition when emotion replaces reason and push back is assumed to be ignorance. The lazy response for both parties is to be dismissive or derisive of the person rather than addressing the relative merit of his or her ideas. The emerging ‘powers that will soon be’ seem to consider tradition as archaic or even irresponsible. Boomers in their day lashed out with the hair and drugs etc. And there is value to evaluating the status quo, but for them the spirit of skeptical defiance became an excuse for permissive living, and this has blossomed in their offspring. Aversion to the establishment has mushroomed into rude and crude resistance in which discourse is collateral damage. Just watching the news is soul crushing!
And who can blame us? Decorum and personal respect have been trampled by much of the music we listen to, shows we watch, video games we play, and foremost in the examples of our leaders – starting with the president. Insolence tentacles out inciting disregard for personal dignity. People with opposing ideas become mere roadblocks to be bulldozed and even destroyed. Total disregard for protocol is applauded. Violence and personal destruction are now justifiable recourses to compel the implementation of “approved” ideas. To disagree is hateful. Never mind the chilling lessons of history that are ignored in this approach, if they are even considered at all.
So – how do you and I insinuate the kingdom of God into this environment. That is a difficult proposition indeed! It is much easier to react rather than respond, and it even feels virtuous. Instead, one can withdraw so as not to incur condemnation, although silence in the face of convictions seems cowardly. Or we could redefine our positions to accommodate our culture. Seems cowardly as well. We could respond in kind with condescension, ridicule and insult. Blaming is a common weapon. Ranting seems appropriate at times. But I guess if we are truly interested in cooperation with people who disagree we have to ask that once popularized expression – “What would Jesus do?” The answer requires thoughtful and prayerful soul searching. Hard work!
In an enemy-centered cultural mindset, where even one minor misstep incurs derision and devaluing of one’s personhood, how should professed followers of Christ interact with our fellow earthlings? Even if their views are diametrically opposed to Jesus’ teachings, there is never cause to belittle, diminish, embarrass, label or dismiss them. That tactic only obscures the truth. RESIST!! We certainly cannot take our cues from the poisonous rhetoric of political leaders and pundits. Contempt and disdain ooze from their very pores as they spit out character assassinations that have little or nothing to do with the issues. Conversation is murdered – cooperation is killed – thoughtful interaction is annihilated. We get it! You hate that person! Does that mean that he/she can think or do nothing of value? Is it possible your adversary has similar goals but just different solutions?
WWJD? We can look to the parable of the Samaritan, where an oppressed man does good to a wounded “other”. Or to Jesus’ words themselves on how to treat others like you want to be treated yourself. Not to mention the sacrifice of His very life for His enemies. All this speaks volumes. The whole of Scripture calls us to dignify rather than objectify people, no matter who they are. Paul warns believers to be humble, not holding one’s own opinions too tightly, elevating others. This is the opposite of labeling your opponent as a hater. Or ignorant. This is not only incorrect, it is a diseased way of sorting out social solutions. Who gets to decide? Public opinion? Too easily manipulated, even without facts. The cultural elite? No thanks! Your opinion? Dubious. The government? Sieg Heil! “In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom”. How about consensus born of rational conversation?
Jesus engaged His generation. He vehemently disagreed with some of His peers, especially the ones who misrepresented God. He even did some name calling! He was authorized, however, by His humility and His commitment to His Father’s plans rather than His own. What about us? If we find ourselves in conflict, the first thing we must do is examine is our heart. Pride inevitably brings contention. If it is not ours, we next evaluate our intention. Is it God’s kingdom or our own that we are promoting? Honest evaluation is challenging. Being unoffendable is strategic. Cooperation is not accidental. It is a worthy pursuit!
Personally I had the benefit of being married to a man who never defined people by their faults but by their possibilities. I saw the kingdom in action in his attitude and interactions. Yet I am finding this to be no small example to emulate! It takes focus and tremendous effort. Let’s prepare our hearts with humility (esteeming others than better than ourselves) and fill our quivers with arrows of grace, thoughtful reflection, prayerful responses, intentional dignifying of the other, and carefully chosen words. And hardest of all – listen with mind AND heart! Let’s facilitate dialogue by breaking our own arrows of cynicism, derogatory language, condescension, and frustration.
Let’s do the work to be salt and not pepper.