BY REV. CLINT LOVEALL - SPIRIT LAKE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Recently, I was on a bicycle ride when a guy in a truck did his best to run me off the road. It was a Wednesday morning about 6:10 and I was well off the road on the shoulder. The man screamed about my being on the road, not using the trail “that his tax dollars paid for,” and salted his language with several expletives to help me get his point.
Reflecting on the incident, it amazes me that on a weekday morning at 6 o’clock, just the sight of a guy on a bicycle causes such anger that an “adult” man feels compelled to see how close he can get to the bike with his 2.5 ton vehicle to send a message that he doesn’t think the biker should be there. He doesn’t see a person. He doesn’t see a guy with a family and a job who likes being outside and is trying to battle middle-age belly fat.
No, he somehow sees a threat to “his” road and an “idiot” who doesn’t get why he has the right to dictate who uses it. That scares me, and not just as a cyclist but as a person. No conversation, no dialogue, no engaging someone as a human being but rather doing something dangerous and stupid and then cussing someone out just because you don’t like where they ride a bicycle. I don’t get that.
Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me. It seems like lately we are seeing more and more examples of people dehumanizing and ignoring those they disagree with. Somehow it has become acceptable to be rude, disrespectful and angry any time you disagree with someone and to insult and even threaten anyone who has an opinion contrary to yours. I recently watched a video of a college professor trying to deliver a lecture to students who chanted, blew air-horns and screamed each time he began speaking. The students were furious that the professor had opposed a gender-language law that had been proposed in Canada, but rather than asking him to explain, they wouldn’t even let him speak.
I also saw recently that a group of students at Notre Dame walked out on a speech by Vice President Mike Pence. When did that become acceptable behavior? When did it become OK for 21-year-old kids to get up and turn their backs on the second highest elected official in the country because they don’t like his politics and assume he has nothing of value to say? When did it become standard practice to not only write-off but refuse to listen to an opinion differing from your own? This seems to me to be a dangerous and immature direction for us to take.
When we cease to see each other as people because of an idea or conclusion, we are thoroughly failing to live up to the Gospel. The Christ who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” will not let us simply deny the humanity of those we dislike or disagree with. As Christians, we don’t get that choice. The New Testament is full of language that demands us to look beyond barriers of race, background, opinion, status, etc. We are called by God to treat others not only as people, but as beloved children of the Heavenly Father, whether we agree with them or not. Maybe we have forgotten how to have dialogue in the culture, but we cannot forget it in the church. Jesus will not allow it.
I had a colleague who once told me he planned to write a book on the loss of civility in public discourse. At the time, I remember thinking it sounded like not the most exciting book. Now, I think he was on to something important. We have forgotten how to talk to each other. We are forgetting how to treat people with basic decency and listen to those whose ideas are not the same as ours. Too often we see people only through the lens of our opinions and feel justified in ignoring or demeaning them if they don’t measure up to our standards. That’s a far cry from what Jesus taught, and it certainly doesn’t look like loving your neighbors, let alone your enemies. We will have little luck explaining why we hated and rejected our enemies to the one who died for his.