We choose our leaders. We choose those individuals whose example we want to follow, particularly in times of crisis. Whose example should we emulate? I guess you could say that, since I learned about the horrific events that took place in Tucson on Saturday, I’ve been struggling with my own response, at least my public one. I know I’ve only got a handful of readers, but this is a public blog, and therefore a greater part of our national dialog than a simple water cooler conversation. Of course, it is that very national dialog that has come under scrutiny.
A big part of me wants to fight. A big part of me wants to rail against false equivalencies, to make the case that the other side is more culpable than mine of the crime of coarsening our political culture. It is something that I believe to be true, whether or not it had anything to do with Saturday’s tragedy.
But my leaders are not fighting in this manner. President Obama, after whose speech I am more proud than ever to have supported, is calling for unity and healing. He’s not pointing the finger of blame at people who have been malicious and merciless in their attempts to malign him. No, rather than blaming one side or the other, he’s calling all of us, right, left and center, to continue our discourse, to continue to champion our positions, but to do so in the assurance that we are ”talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
Another leader I look to in times like these is Jim Wallis of Sojourners. He too has been attacked for the crime of advocating Christian values about poverty and justice in the public square, for creating a narrative about Christianity that is a marked contrast to that of the Religious Right. He too is calling for healing, for introspection, for both sides to cool off, take a deep breath and recognize and embrace those on “the other side” as fellow human beings who are simply looking to be the best people they can be in their mortal frailty.
Ultimately, as a Christian, I need to ask myself how Jesus would respond to this. This is a bit tricky, because Jesus, while never advocating violence, was not known for holding his tongue. Even in His most merciful moments, he still called people out on their sins and he reserved the greatest judgment for the wealthy and the powerful. I can actually see him calling certain personalities on the carpet. Of course, I believe Him to be sinless, all-powerful and all-knowing. You might say that gives him something of an advantage.
I am not sinless, all-powerful or all-knowing, so I don’t feel comfortable concluding, rightly or not, that Jesus would have let “them” have it, so I can let “them” have it. Jesus can aggressively engage in truth telling about a given incident because He really does know the truth.
So that leaves me with my mortal leaders calling for restraint and for good will.
“But he said…!”
“But she had a map…!”
“But they called me a…!”
“But they won’t respond to me with the same good will!”
Somehow, those “buts” seem familiar. I’ve heard them before, in discussions about how we responded to the September 11 attacks and how we deal with radical Islam.
“But they used suicide hijacking!”
“But they behead people!”
“But they would torture us!”
I know what my answer to such statements is. It’s to say that it does not matter what they do to us. What’s important is what we do to them. What’s important is how we respond to that which our “adversaries” throw at us. Our own response is what truly defines us. Do we, in responding to those who act against us, embrace their values or hold tight to our own?
By that standard, I need to stand down. I need to seek the path of peace, to seek mercy and healing over some standard of fleeting victory.
So I’m going to follow my leaders and not lash out with every rhetorical weapon at my disposal. I’ll still comment on politics and engage in a robust debate, but I’m going to do so civilly and without villifying the other side. It’s how I can follow my leaders in trying to make our nation worthy of our children.