The outcry was immediate.
Cynthia Nixon, an actress and unsuccessful candidate for New York governor, tweeted this response: “You’ve just called America’s most anti-LGBT elected leader ‘a decent guy.’ Please consider how this falls on the ears of our community.”
Biden quickly apologized. “You’re right, Cynthia,” he wrote. “I was making a point in a foreign policy context,” he explained, “but there is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights, and that includes the Vice President.”
CNN’s Chris Cillizza explained that Biden “is a creature of a totally different political time,” his comment “a reflection of the general collegiality that reigned in politics when Biden came up in the game.” However, as Cillizza notes, “Things have changed drastically since then.”
Cillizza assumes that Biden will run for president in 2020 and calls him “a benefit-of-the-doubt guy running to lead a party who views the other side as not just dumb and incompetent, but evil.”
Is the other political party “fair”?
Cillizza has the facts on his side.
A recent survey found that 61 percent of Democrats view Republicans as “racist/bigoted/sexist”; 31 percent of Republicans feel the same way about Democrats. Fifty-four percent of Democrats consider Republicans to be “ignorant”; 49 percent of Republicans feel the same way about Democrats. And 44 percent of Democrats consider Republicans to be “spiteful”; 54 percent of Republicans feel this way about Democrats.
Only 4 percent of each party consider the other party to be “fair.” Three percent of Democrats and 4 percent of Republicans consider the other party to be “thoughtful.” Two percent of Democrats and 3 percent of Republicans consider the other party to be “kind.”
In 1958, 33 percent of Democrats wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat; 25 percent of Republicans wanted their daughters to marry a Republican. In 2016, 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans felt that way.
Why is our political culture so vehemently divided? Is there anything we can do to change the vitriol of our day?
How our politics compare to the Israeli–Palestinian divide
Arthur C. Brooks leads the American Enterprise Institute, a respected conservative think tank in Washington, DC. Writing for the New York Times, he highlights data showing that political polarization in the US is worse than at any time since the Civil War.
Brooks then explains that the problem is not incivility or intolerance, but contempt. He cites a study from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reporting that the divide between Republicans and Democrats today is comparable with that of Palestinians and Israelis. Each side believes that it is driven by benevolence, while the other side is evil and motivated by hatred.
The NAS study calls this phenomenon “motive attribution asymmetry.” It leads those on each side to view the other as an enemy with whom they cannot negotiate or compromise.
According to Brooks, the answer is not to disagree less, since disagreements and competition are essential to excellence in democracy and economics. Rather, “What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better.”
He advises us to “make a commitment never to treat others with contempt, even if we believe they deserve it.” When people treat us with contempt, Brooks encourages us to “respond with warmheartedness and good humor.”
Such a response is essential to persuasion: “No one has ever been hated into agreement, after all.”
The power of God to reflect the grace of God
I’m certain Brooks is right. But I would add three observations for Christians.
First, moving beyond contempt and political vitriol does not mean that we compromise on biblical truth.
I am convinced that life begins at conception and that abortion is therefore wrong. And I am convinced that God intends marriage to be a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman.
As a result, I believe that the pro-choice position supports laws that permit the deaths of unborn children. Same-sex marriage advocates believe that my position on biblical marriage violates the civil rights of LGBTQ people as reprehensibly as those who opposed civil rights for African Americans in the 1960s.
People who share my beliefs could “solve” the divisiveness of our day by surrendering our biblical convictions. But Jesus was clear: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We must stand with the apostles who refused to compromise their beliefs for the sake of political expediency (Acts 4:18–20).
Second, to honor our Lord, we must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
It is vital that we represent Jesus not only in what we say but in the way we say it: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Winning arguments is not as important as winning souls.
Third, we need the power of God to reflect the grace of God.
The “fruit of the Spirit” are all essential to manifesting the character of Jesus. To demonstrate the Spirit’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23), we must be empowered by the Spirit.
Just because the Spirit lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16) doesn’t mean he is controlling us (Ephesians 5:18). If we want to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, we must choose every day to surrender to his leadership and power.
Praying for courage and character
On this first day of Lent, as Christians around the world enter a season of reflection and spiritual growth, let’s ask God to strengthen our relationships with those with whom we disagree. Let’s pray for the courage and character to speak the truth in love. Let’s model the change we want to see in our culture.
With whom will you start today?