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Sen. Rand Paul receives death threat: Grief for our culture and the urgency of civility

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Senator Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, on Capitol Hill, in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been in the news frequently during the pandemic.

He was one of the first senators to test positive for COVID-19 last March. He has chosen not to be vaccinated as a result, stating as an ophthalmologist that unless he sees evidence proving the vaccine is more effective than surviving the virus, he won’t get the shot. He has also conflicted with Dr. Anthony Fauci at a number of Senate hearings over mask-wearing and whether the virus originated in a Chinese lab.  

This morning, he is in the news for another reason: he received a death threat package Monday containing white powder and a violent, profane message.

An envelope and a tweet

On the outside of the envelope was a picture of a bandaged and bruised Paul with a gun to his head. A threat was printed beneath it: “I’ll finish what your neighbor started, you [expletive deleted].” The picture and threat referred to a 2017 assault on Paul by his neighbor. While the senator was doing yard work, Rene Boucher attacked him, breaking five of his ribs. 

The previous day, a singer named Richard Marx tweeted, “I’ll say it again: If I ever meet Rand Paul’s neighbor, I’m going to hug him and buy him as many drinks as he can consume.” 

(Officials later determined that the white powder is non-toxic, but further analysis will be conducted on both the substance and the package.) 

I disagree with the senator’s decision not to be vaccinated. As a public figure, his decision may lead others not to become vaccinated and could cause some people to become sick and/or to transmit the virus to others. 

In addition, I would have spoken with Dr. Fauci during the Senate hearings in a different manner. I believe a senator has a responsibility to set a tone of decorum for the country. 

However, despite my personal disagreements with Sen. Paul, I am grieved by the death threat he received and lament for the divided and divisive culture it reflects.

Practicing the “inner monologue”

One of the essential principles of civility is the “inner monologue”—we censor ourselves so that we speak and act publicly in ways that may be more redemptive than our private thoughts and attitudes. 

For example, feeling angry is natural, but we are told, “Be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). The sin is not in the feeling, but in how we respond to it. Being hurt by others is inevitable in this fallen world, but we are told, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). We must not slander others, speaking to them rather than about them. 

As St. Augustine noted, God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. We prove that we love our Lord by the way we love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39). We were made for community (Genesis 2:18) and express our identity as the body of Christ most fully when we cooperate with each other (1 Corinthians 12:12–27). 

Henri Nouwen noted: “The discipline of community makes us persons; that is, people who are sounding through to each other (the Latin personare means ‘sounding through’) a truth, a beauty, and a love that is greater, fuller, and richer than we ourselves can grasp. In true community we are windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s presence in our lives. 

“Thus the discipline of community is a true discipline of prayer. It makes us alert to the presence of the Spirit who cries out ‘Abba,’ Father, among us and thus prays from the center of our common life. Community thus is obedience practiced together. The question is not simply ‘Where does God lead me as an individual person who tried to do his will?’ More basic and more significant is the question, ‘Where does God lead us as a people?'”

“Discernment is God’s call to intercession”

Christians are a redeemed people. In gratitude for the grace we have received, it is incumbent on us to share this grace with others. Our witness in a culture that is increasingly opposed to our faith depends on the civility with which we respond to our opponents by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

To that end: Is there someone with whom you are angry or hurt today? Someone whose behavior troubles or grieves you? 

If they have hurt you personally, you are called to speak to them rather than about them (Matthew 18:15). If they have not, you are called to censor your personal thoughts so that you respond in ways that honor your Lord and serve others redemptively. 

Oswald Chambers was right: “Discernment is God’s call to intercession, never to fault finding.” 

Is there someone for whom you need to intercede today?