It took Pete Davidson twenty-five seconds to offend millions of Americans. The Saturday Night Live “comedian” was making fun of political candidates last weekend when he came to Dan Crenshaw, a Republican candidate for Congress from Texas.
Crenshaw is a former Navy SEAL who served five deployments overseas. In 2012, he was hit by an IED blast in Afghanistan. His right eye was destroyed in the blast and his left eye was severely damaged.
After several difficult surgeries, Lieutenant Commander Crenshaw eventually regained sight in his left eye. He deployed twice more, to the Middle East in 2014 and South Korea in 2016.
He was medically retired in September 2016 after ten years in the SEAL Teams. He was decorated with two Bronze Stars (one for Valor), the Purple Heart, and the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor. He then completed his master’s degree in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is now running for Congress in the Houston district where he grew up.
Davidson, commenting on the patch Crenshaw wears over his damaged right eye, made a remark about the veteran that is so offensive I won’t repeat it here. Crenshaw replied on Twitter: “Good rule in life: I try hard not to offend; I try harder not to be offended. That being said, I hope @nbcsnl recognizes that vets don’t deserve to see their wounds used as punchlines for bad jokes.”
Crenshaw later described Davidson’s performance as “mean spirited,” but said he didn’t need an apology: “I want us to get away from this culture where we demand apologies every time someone misspeaks. I think that would be very healthy for our nation, to go in that direction. We don’t need to be outwardly outraged. I don’t need to demand apologies from them. They can do whatever they want. They’re feeling the heat from around the country right now, and that’s fine.”
Three facts explain the negativity of our culture
Why are our politics so angry today? It’s not that our divisions are new–a persuasive case can be made that the “United” States is actually composed of eleven different socio-political regions. Nor are the divisive issues of our day new to us–abortion has been legal since 1973, while same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004 and the US since 2015.
But there is a level of political animosity and even hatred today that is new in my experience. Understanding this vitriol is the first step to moving past it. Consider three interrelated facts.
One: Americans are divided more by identity than by ideology.
As I noted yesterday, we are increasingly known more for our party affiliation than for our positions on specific issues. Kwame Appiah, a professor of philosophy and law at New York University, states: “Identity politics is the only kind of politics we’ve got.”
Two: We tend to identify people in negative ways.
Appiah explains that one of our basic ways of making sense of the world is to form generalizations known as “generics.” We tend to group people into generics as a shortcut to understanding and relating to them.
Generics are especially powerful if they are negative or worrying (“Liberals hate America” or “Conservatives are bigots”). They become a defense mechanism by which we protect ourselves from those with whom we disagree.
Three: Negative campaigning reinforces our stereotypes.
Negative political ads are proven to influence preferences and voter turnout, largely because they trigger the defense mechanisms just mentioned. In addition, 24/7 news outlets have learned that conflict and controversy generate audience share.
As a result, the media amplifies the negativity in our political culture. And this in turn reinforces our beliefs regarding those we oppose, a phenomenon known as “confirmation bias.”
Responding to the vitriol of our day
What does the divisiveness of our day mean for followers of Jesus?
We can expect the acrimony of our culture to accelerate as the 2020 presidential election cycle begins. We can also expect animosity to intensify regarding those the culture opposes, especially evangelicals who support biblical morality.
In response, it is vital that we locate our identity not in a political party or cultural issue but in our status as God’s children (John 1:12). In addition, we must remember that those with whom we disagree are not our enemies but fellow humans made in our Father’s image (Genesis 1:26-27).
If they oppose biblical truth, it is because “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Those who oppose us deserve to hear God’s word on the issues of our day shared “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). The more they reject our faith, the more they need our intercession (Matthew 5:44-45).
“Courteous conduct honors Christ”
As Christian citizens, we owe America three commitments today.
First: Vote. More than a million men and women died to protect our nation and the democratic freedoms we enjoy today.
Second: Pray for our leaders and people to “come to the knowledge of the truth” in Christ (1 Timothy 2:4). Intercede daily for the spiritual awakening we desperately need.
Third: Remember that we are the presence of Christ in our world. You and I are the “body of Christ”–literally, not just figuratively (1 Corinthians 12:27). As his Spirit lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), Jesus continues his earthly ministry through us. What we do reflects directly on our Master.
Max Lucado: “Those who don’t believe in Jesus take note of what believers do. They make decisions about Christ by watching us. When we’re kind, they assume Christ is kind. When we’re gracious, they assume Christ is gracious. . . . Courteous conduct honors Christ.”
Will you honor Christ today?