In last week’s column, I talked about my New Year’s resolution: to keep trying to overcome a lifelong predisposition toward pugnacity, in favor of a Christian, peaceable response to disagreements.
To my mind as I was writing that piece, I was confessing my private, multi-decade struggle to learn to turn the other cheek — at church, in the workplace, at the ballpark, on the roadways.
I’ve observed that a lot of people have that same problem, and I hoped that telling of my struggles might help a few of them.
What surprised me, then, was that multiple readers interpreted that column as a political statement demanding that Christians passively accept whatever outrages our government’s new leaders choose to wreak.
Which just goes to show, for the 1,000th time, that what I think I’m writing isn’t necessarily what you, dear readers, think you’re reading.
Or, as the Captain said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
But since the issue has been raised, and given that our new president is freshly inaugurated, I’ll share my views on how the opposition — especially those opposed who call themselves Christians — should respond to Donald Trump and Company.
This won’t be news to anyone who reads my columns regularly, but for the record, I’m a Democrat. I am, on most issues, a liberal Democrat.
I know that an awful lot of Christians — including many of my relatives, friends and parishioners — aren’t liberal Democrats, but in a more rational world they would be. (That’s a joke, friends. Kind of.)
Bottom line, I did not vote for Mr. Trump.
I think he’s definitely dangerous to the republic and potentially dangerous to humanity. A man who can’t responsibly handle a Twitter account probably shouldn’t be entrusted with the nuclear football.
And his election is made all the scarier because our countrymen also have elected a full slate of Trump enablers: a Republican U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives (and, by extension, a Republican U.S. Supreme Court), as well as a Republican governor of Kentucky and a Republican state legislature.
Today’s Republican Party opposes everything I believe is best for America: public education, Medicare, Social Security, fact-based news reporting, livable wages for working people, a benevolent immigration policy, regulation of Wall Street, health care for all and freedom of religion even for those whose faith differs from mine.
So am I angry? Yes.
Am I disheartened? Darn tootin’.
Am I nervous? You bet.
The question then: How should I, and other Christians who disagree with the present condition of the nation, respond?
First, being Christians doesn’t require us to be doormats.
You might be a Christian, but you’re also an American citizen. You’re entitled to speak the truth as you see it.
Which is what I’m doing here, right now, in these words you’re reading.
When you see injustice, you have not only a right but a duty to call it what it is.
This past week, we marked the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian who stood up for justice even at the risk, and eventual cost, of his life. He marched, lobbied, wrote and protested. He refused to be silent.
Go thou and do likewise.
Second, we’re always to be driven by love for all people, even for those we disagree with. That was one key to King’s greatness. To borrow a New Testament maxim, he spoke the hard truth, but he spoke it in love.
For Christians, there’s a proper way and a wrong way to voice opposition. Citing the New Testament again, we’re not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.
To paraphrase yet another biblical admonition: It’s sometimes appropriate to get angry, but never appropriate to use anger as an excuse for acting like jerks. We must refuse to be dragged into the muck of blind rage and name-calling and revenge.
We must remember that the folks on the other side are our countrymen, our neighbors and, perhaps, our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We might have to spend eternity with them; we might as well practice now speaking of them decently.
We might even try listening to them occasionally.
Finally, we should approach all political matters with humility.
Self-righteousness is rarely successful and never wise. It has a way of backfiring.
It might turn out someday that you — or, God forbid, I — are flat wrong about some of our pet issues.
And it might be, too, that the Republican neighbor you’re so ready to despise turns out to be the surgeon who saves your life with an emergency operation, and then writes off his bill because you can’t pay it. (And you can’t pay it because he voted against the Affordable Care Act and Medicare. Sorry, Jesus, I couldn’t resist.)
But my point is, nobody, not even liberal Democrats, not right-wing Republicans, has cornered the market on truth or charity or omniscience.
We’re all flawed and silly, every last one of us. Our human knowledge is warped and incomplete.
Thus, it behooves us to be merciful to each other even as we disagree.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.