The story goes that early in the 20th century, The Times of London sent out a query to famous writers, asking, “What’s wrong with the world today?” The great Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton replied, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G. K. Chesterton.”
I don’t believe we’ll make headway on the hateful, blaming rhetoric and the escalating violence until more Americans stop blaming others and start acknowledging our own sinfulness, and given the right circumstances, the likelihood that we might very well do the things we decry in others.
Abraham Lincoln is one model here. Because he was himself deeply imbued with humility, in his Second Inaugural Address, he refused to castigate either side in the Civil War:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.
As Lincoln’s presidency exemplified, the fact that we don’t judge doesn’t mean we don’t act. But when we do act, we do so “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right” and so “strive on to finish the work we are in.” In other words, even as we speak and act for what we think is right and just, we recognize that in some sense we too are the problem, that we are responsible for all people.
I don’t have much hope that the ideologues who rant about the opponent’s shortsightedness, chicanery, and lies will revise their tactics anytime soon. How does one soften a hardened heart? (Then again, we must admit that with God all things are possible).
I have some hope, though, that Christians just might recognize the radical word of Jesus in all this. That radical word, which leads to the humility that Lincoln exemplifies, is repent. It was after all the very first word of Jesus’ public ministry: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And until that kingdom comes, that first word remains the first word.
Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.