Last week’s disinfectant debacle is a really great object lesson. We can draw a simple principle from James 3.1: while all are uniquely gifted by God, teaching is for those called to teach. A more modern way to put it: we need to stay in our lane.
The president’s refusal to stay in his lane got him into trouble once again. Instead of allowing medical professionals to speak about medicine, he speculated about medicine and created another mess conference. The following day, social media and the news media went a wee bit overboard with Clorox jokes and Trump critiques. Christians entered the fray with fresh debates about Trump’s fitness to be president. Now that COVID has shut down real sports, we have turned again to the WWE version of public discourse. Verbal knock-down-drag-outs emerge in times of political controversy. It feels to me like a repeat of 2016.
I admit that I have been goaded into online wrestling over the past five years. I have been clear about my distaste for Donald Trump and I have engaged in worthless or disrespectful conversation about him. I long to grow in this area of my life because I do believe I am called to teach. I also believe debates and disagreements are okay. The Apostle Paul debated with religious and civic leaders. He called out Peter for his hypocrisy. He parted ways with Barnabas for a season. It’s not that we can’t hold strong opinions and make a stand with one another that feels like division.
Even still, we have to be careful how we talk. James says:
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony into chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. James 3.5-6 (MSG)
In light of this sobering truth, I’d like to offer two simple tips for those who feel uncomfortable or unsure about the lane in which you find yourself these days.
1. Unfollow your irritating friends: I have found the easiest way for me to avoid unhealthy debate is to unfollow my ultra-conservative friends whose positions rub me wrong. Unfollowing is not the same as unfriending, by the way. I still love those people and would happily have them for dinner. I just know that when it comes to politics, we are incompatible.
2. Know your lane: It’s one thing to converse or even debate an issue. It’s another thing to fight about it in a bitter manner. If your lane is teaching, you probably know the difference. If not, maybe private message people with whom you disagree and just talk, not teach. People who don’t believe in Jesus are reading along as Christians are goaded by the devil to eat each other. We ruin our testimony this way and reinforce our hypocrite status in the eyes of those who need to see the love of God.
I want to be clear, the Trump presidency has been painful for me, but I finally realized it isn’t so much about him. It’s more about evangelicals – with whom I once identified – and any teaching that turns their personal convictions into commandments from God. It makes me want to hang my head:
It makes me want to palm my face:
I am not claiming to be a spiritual expert. I’m just saying that some evangelical talking points lead to confusion, and spiritual lies spread like a virus. All of us should strive to protect unbelievers from things that cause them to stumble, and that may mean refuting statements that don’t make spiritual sense.
Even still, not every debate on Facebook is worth the inner agitation it causes.