I’d just finished reading one of C. S. Lewis’s lesser-known books, Studies in Words, when I happened upon a recent New York Times report on evangelical support for Donald Trump. The former president’s summer of legal woes is off to an early start, and many have asked whether the present trial (or another) will lose him support ahead of Election Day. The answer—among his base, anyway—is undoubtedly no.

If anything, the opposite is true: In some circles, his adversities are hailed as a kind of vindication, his endurance on the campaign trail as a sign of divine blessing. “For some of Mr. Trump’s supporters, the political attacks and legal peril he faces are nothing short of biblical,” the report said. “They’ve crucified him worse than Jesus,” one Trump enthusiast told the Times.

Now, the Lewis book is mostly fascinating linguistic history, but the last chapter examines how we use language to dispense criticism, and its final two pages are precisely the warning our political culture needs as we plod through another contentious election. It’s certainly the warning I need and the warning I hope fellow Christians will heed, particularly those of us in politically diverse families, friend groups, and congregations.

I realized how much I needed it as I read that Times article. It published on Easter Monday and I read it the same day, the drama of Easter weekend fresh on my mind. Suffice it to say, the crucifixion line did not sit well with me.

“Worse than Jesus”! I remember thinking. I agree some of this legal stuff is far-fetched, but are you kidding me? Do these people not know what crucifixion entails? Do they not know Trump probably sleeps on silk sheets? Has actual diamonds on his front door? We’re not exactly dealing with a “man of sorrows” here (Isa. 53:3, KJV).

I could have kept going. Some part of me wanted to keep going, to tear that line to shreds, to pick apart the poor theology and misplaced political loyalty, to make it the focus of this very article, to personally and publicly sort the sheep from the goats. I had the impulse to self-aggrandizing political judgment I’ve observed in others, and I was dismayed to find it tasted delicious in my own mouth.

But recalling what Lewis said about criticism made me spit it out. He was writing more than six decades ago, so his idea of a public critic is now anachronistically narrow. He envisions a book reviewer, or a scholar assessing some new research—essentially, people like Lewis himself.

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Today, of course, we can all play the critic, and we don’t need to confine our critical attention to books or journals. Old norms against talking politics in many social and professional contexts have fallen away. And the internet as we know it invites us all to render judgment on just about anything we like, sometimes in the form of condemnation (“X is bad and stupid”) and sometimes as affirmation (“I support Y, the good and smart thing”). We often describe this as “taking a stand.”

Taking a stand can be the right or even necessary thing to do. Yet our motives are often less pure than we imagine, and this is where the warning comes in. “I think we must get it firmly fixed in our minds,” Lewis wrote, “that the very occasions on which we should most like to write a slashing review”—or post a devastating TikTok or tweet or message in the family chat—“are precisely those on which we had much better hold our tongues. The very desire is a danger signal.”

Lewis was not opposed to condemnation. He wasn’t advocating cowardice. Sometimes, he said, we must “condemn totally and severely.” But we should pay attention to why we want to speak this way, why we want to pronounce “a fully indulged resentment.” If we find ourselves rushing to critique some person or group for doing “‘exactly the sort of thing we always loathe,’ then,” Lewis wrote, “if we are wise, we shall be silent”:

The strength of our dislike is itself a probable symptom that all is not well within; that some raw place in our psychology has been touched, or else that some personal or partisan motive is secretly at work. If we were simply exercising judgement we should be calmer; less anxious to speak.

And if we do speak, we shall almost certainly make fools of ourselves. Continence in this matter is no doubt painful. But, after all, you can always write your slashing review now and drop it into the wastepaper basket a day or so later. A few re-readings in cold blood will often make this quite easy.

I realize this advice may feel as outdated as Lewis’s picture of writing a review on physical paper and placing it in the physical trash. From right and left alike, our political life reverberates with calls to urgency and outrage: If you aren’t ready to take radical political action, you “don’t know what time it is.” If you stay out of politics—even if that amounts to so small a rebellion as declining to follow every news cycle—you must be enjoying the luxury of privilege.

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It’s not true that disinterest in politics is a sign of privilege; on the contrary, more educated (and therefore higher income) Americans are more politically engaged than their less privileged counterparts by just about every measure. But it is true that there are many outrageous and urgent matters in American politics. I am plenty discontented with the whole state of things myself.

And politics is hardly the only place we have important and difficult disagreements. (I often say I’m more worried about causing a stir in Christian circles on X, formerly Twitter, than in its political spaces; the intra-church fights can be more vicious.)

In many contexts, Lewis’s call to forbearance will never be obsolete. It echoes the spirit of Paul’s advice to Timothy to avoid “foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Tim. 2:23–24).

The high stakes we encounter in politics and beyond are exactly why Lewis’s advice to take a pause before (or even instead of) taking a stand is so needful: We wouldn’t need the warning if we were all in agreement.

Thanks to the grotesque distension of the American election cycle, we are 18 months into this thing and still have 6 months to go. It will get worse before it gets better. The impulse to take stands—confident stands, bombastic stands, stands that bring discord into our close relationships and have zero effect on national politics—will only grow stronger. By November, we’ll be awash in diatribes and bereft of discernment, if we don’t take care.

Bonnie Kristian is the editorial director of ideas and books at Christianity Today.