Last week we looked at what Thomas Jefferson might have said to those who organized and spoke at the forum on constitutional and civil rights in Coffee County, Tennessee, that made national news. As I said then, the context of the forum made it easy for some to wonder if the purpose of the forum was education or intimidation. Whatever it was, it was not achieved. But that does not mean nothing can be learned from the event. Ironically, the real lesson was taught by the crowd, and one has to wonder what Jesus, instead of Jefferson, might have said to some of them.
The crowd, to put it mildly, was rowdy, boisterous, and angry. Certainly not everyone there could be described that way, but from the video of the event I saw and first hand reports I have heard, that certainly was the general tone prior to and during the forum.
If we are to understand the lesson to be learned, however, we first need to understand the two things the crowd needed to accomplish:
- To let those who would seek to intimidate know that they cannot intimidate those patriots concerned about the erosion of our right to freedom of speech and the potential influence that a growing Islamic population committed to Sharia law might have on our rights, and
- To awaken those who need to be awakened to these issues and to convince those who are undecided about them.
Many who I love, respect, and work with were in the crowd, and I suspect that they, along with all the others there, would agree on those two points. I hope they will also agree with what follows.
The lesson I think that needs to be learned, as painful as it is to say and perhaps for some to hear, is:
- when the volume gets too high, and
- the rhetoric too strong,
then the potential for disruptive behavior and incivility toward others gets too great. When that happens, then all good intentions aside, the second educational objective, no less important than the first, will get lost.
After all, the first objective — educating those who think intimidation will work — could have been achieved merely by showing up in mass and by civilly debating the law and contradicting any errors and falsehoods.
But those present and those who were watching to see what might happen who needed to be won over were most likely turned off and turned away. And worse yet, in the minds of many of them, those who share the protestors’ concerns but would have expressed them in a different manner are painted with that same brush, so that no one’s voice is given credibility. Sadly, the “lost” that need to be “saved” remain lost.
But for the Christian, the lesson is even more painful. What if those who most need to know the love of Christ believe we are part of those whose behavior may look to them no different than the way Islamic mobs in Muslim countries look to us? How likely are they to believe that, unlike Allah, ours is a God who loves us enough to save us when by our own merit we cannot ever do enough to save ourselves?
Christians are called to steward well the authority God has entrusted to them in the civil realm as an expression of their love and faithfulness to Him. When it shifts from that to “saving America,” as wonderful as it is, then America, not God, becomes the object of our engagement. And when that happens, it is easy to behave badly.
When we, as Christians, naturally have anger well up in us over what we see happening in our country, we would do well to remember what God has said, “The anger of man works not the righteousness of God.”
That is a lesson all of us need to remember, myself included, and especially so to the extent some might perceive me as a leader. Otherwise, as was said last week, we just get more shouting and distrust.