Dehumanization In Our Political Speech

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Having spent three years studying Government at UT and six years living in the city of Austin, I’m no stranger to politics. The truth is I love politics – the debates, policy, legislation, ethics, and so on. But there’s nothing that makes politics more wearisome to me than the social media “experts” sharing inside information from fringe news outlets and tweets that are simply impossible to nuance.

In the social media world, complexity is rarely appreciated and simplicity has become our god. It seems that if it doesn’t fit into 140 characters or a six-second video, it’s too much information. Take the recent Hobby Lobby case for example. Those who opposed the decision have painted it as targeted discrimination against a woman’s right to birth control, disregarding the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision only permits Hobby Lobby to refuse access to those medications considered abortifacient. In fact, the company still offers coverage for sixteen other contraceptive options. From the start, their case only opposed four of the many available options. Are there women’s health exceptions that should be considered? Of course, but the point is that this isn’t simply an ogre-esque attack on women or simply an all-out effort to repeal religious liberty.

I celebrate the Court’s decision, but nuance is important. When we frame a topic for the benefit of our own position, we harm both our position as well as the integrity of our opinion.

What disheartens me most is how this craving for simplicity reaches beyond the topics to people themselves, especially when professing Christians engage in this kind of rhetoric. On any given day, I see numerous examples of human individuals dehumanized and reduced to a label by some manner of social media. Immigration debates have produced a group of people we now know as “illegals” who are participants in the “invasion” of a country not originally their own and the gay rights conversation has given us the “gays” and the “bigots.”

Certainly these are important issues that involve both personal freedoms and religious liberty, but it is people who are at issue here and not merely ideology. In the name of simplicity, one’s opponents have been reduced to a title that strips them of respect and dignity. It frustrates me to see so many Christians choosing to participate in this manner because the world needs a better, holistic, and more robust vision of the Christian faith if change is ever going to occur. It certainly won’t happen through dehumanizing social media posts.

Personal theology must inform our political rhetoric. Even in his greatest moments of anger, Jesus refrained from dehumanizing individuals. He used pointed metaphors and convicting pictures to illustrate the condition of the hearts of the rebellious. It’s also worth mentioning that Jesus was himself a kind of foreign immigrant for the early part of his life having fled to Egypt from his homeland where political persecution was occurring (Matt. 2:13-33).

Paul exemplified this attitude as well. In his letter to the Roman church, he chastises the pursuits of contemporary paganism and laments the blindness and destruction that accompanies its members. As he warns the church in the first chapter, his language is abrasive and violent in describing the coming judgment for those who continue to live in rebellion to God. Yet, when he meets these very idolaters at the Areopagus, he engages them with patience, respect, and winsome speech. He doesn’t berate their unbelief, but applauds their desire for religious observance. He doesn’t focus on rebuking their polytheism, but utilizes their fascination with religion in order to introduce them to the One True God. While some mocked him for his message others came to know Christ and through it all, his tone did not change.

We desperately need this attitude in our political rhetoric today and it is gained through the development of a robust personal theology informing our political opinions. All men and women are image-bearers of God, even the “illegals,” the “gays,” the “bigots,” and any other category that exists today. For that alone, each person deserves to be treated with human dignity and respect offline and online because they bear the image of God.

A “robust personal theology” isn’t something gained from higher education yielding numerous diplomas on the wall; it’s developed through a commitment to the sincere study and application of the Word of God in daily life and thought.

When our theology is disconnected from our politics, it is revealed in the ways we treat those with whom we disagree.

I understand that there are security, workplace, and economic issues at play with decisions concerning immigration just as I also understand that there are important religious and social implications coinciding with the politics of sexual rights. However, people are at stake within each arena of concern and they must be considered in our speech. I believe it’s important to improve the security of our borders, but we must also consider how to care for those individuals who are presently in this country. Many (not all) of them are disconnected families and children fleeing their increasingly violent homelands. Christians, can do better than dehumanize them and berate the President for his political sympathies concerning the “illegals.” And while I believe that homosexuality is a sinful and devastating deception for those who pursue it as a lifestyle, we must have charity in our speech and patiently engage the emotional and identity concerns tied to what is a deeply painful struggle for many.

Can we disagree, divide, and even refuse obedience in certain cases? Yes. We are called to engage the darkness of the world and push it back, but we are to do so in such a way as to share the mercy of God with others all the while compelled by the love Christ has extended to us. At all times, our speech should confer dignity to others without being reduced to political simplicity that dehumanizes image bearers of God. We should be marked by love and compassion as they are our greatest apologetics.

Our culture needs to hear a holistic Christianity. It is craving robust answers to the many questions it has placed in the hands of legislative bodies to answer. We do a disservice to them all when we simplify, belittle, and dehumanize.

So Christian, let your political rhetoric be seasoned with charitable salt and be reflective of the mercy of God who sought you and made you his own though you did nothing to deserve it.

*Regarding the issue of immigration, a Honduran Reverend for the Methodist Church recently wrote an informative article concerning why Honduran children are coming to the U.S. I found it insightful so if you’d like to read it, click here.

Photo by Thomas Hawk (CC)
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