“There’s something about Mr. Trump that makes it hard for people who love him, and people who hate him, to love each other.” So states The Wall Street Journal, reporting on marital rifts being created by Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.
One couple has set its rules: When Mr. Trump appears on the evening news, one or the other must leave the room, or they must flip to the National Geographic channel. And they never discuss him in the bedroom.
Politics are getting more divisive by the day, it seems. In last night’s Republican presidential debate, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz repeatedly attacked Mr. Trump, who responded in kind. And Bernie Sanders is sharpening his criticisms of Hillary Clinton on the eve of the South Carolina Democratic primary.
Michael Scherer notes in Time that America’s presidential contests “are designed to be brutal passion plays, the best alternative to the bloody wars of succession humanity used in centuries past.”
And so it has been across our history.
In the 1800 election, President John Adams was opposed by Vice-President Thomas Jefferson. Neither campaigned publicly, but both hired operatives to work on their behalf. The Jefferson camp accused Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” The Adams camp replied that Jefferson was a “mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” The rancor that began with that election continues today.
Across our history, politicians have defamed each other because such tactics work. Why are they effective?
Bert Decker’s You’ve Got To Be Believed To Be Heard explains that emotional trust is essential to persuasion. According to Decker, believability is “overwhelmingly determined at a preconscious level” where our innate concern is survival. His research shows that “people buy on emotion and justify with fact.”
In political terms, if I can get voters to distrust you, I am more likely to defeat you.
Clearly, there is no room for slander in the Christian faith. At the same time, we can learn from our politicians. Old Testament prophets consistently criticized the immorality of their leaders and people. Jesus called his opponents “hypocrites” six times in just one New Testament chapter (Matthew 23). Paul said of anyone preaching a false gospel, “let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
Part of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) is warning sinners when they sin. According to biblical scholar D. A. Carson, Jesus spoke about hell twice as often as he spoke about heaven. How many of us follow his example today?
The next time you have an opportunity to share the gospel with a lost person, ask yourself this: If I have cancer and you’re an oncologist, what is the most loving thing you can do for me?