How many times have you heard or read any of the following words in the past few months? “Refuglican,” “libtard,” “teabagger,” “gun nut,” “fascidiot,” “feminazi.” How many times have you heard somebody refer to liberals, conservatives or some other group as being in general “stupid”? How many memes have you seen that address the opposite political faction in a way that belittles them?
And how many of the people you’ve observed using this kind of language called themselves Christians?
You don’t have to look hard to find examples of extreme partisanship on the Internet or out in the world. Maybe you recognized yourself in one of the above descriptions. (I’ve certainly been smug and dismissive towards those who have disagreed with me). Even if not, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of reading and regurgitating only those messages that affirm your point of view.
But we as Christians have a duty to remember that our primary allegiance is not to the preoccupations of this world, but to the life of the Kingdom of God. We also have a very explicit responsibility to love our neighbors, including our enemies. Partisanship—when it becomes, as it so often does, short-sighted, self-serving and uncompassionate—is directly opposed to Christian ideals.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with being people of conviction—indeed, we are called to discern and stand for truth, most notably the truth of the Gospel. But partisanship is more than simply having a belief or sticking to it. Partisanship should be recognized as a form of idolatry, a prioritizing of our own ego or tribal loyalties over our commitment to God and His world-encompassing mission for us.
And so, while we cannot control what others say, write or share, we can control what information we expose ourselves to, how we respond to it and how we let it inform our interactions with other people.
Here are some reminders to help ourselves combat partisanship in the news cycle.
Be Conscious About Your News Sources
Nowadays, you don’t have to work hard to insulate yourself from alternate viewpoints. Google and Facebook can track your Internet history and suggest the kinds of ads, articles and search results you want to see. News sites—which depend on clicks, shares and subscriptions for revenue—have an interest in catering to their audience’s biases and pandering to their audience’s prejudices.
Given all this, we have to put in extra effort not to give in to black-and-white, us vs. them rhetoric. A basic step is simply to be aware that writers and commentators can never be totally objective. Even numbers and statistics can be used selectively to convenience a narrative.
Knowing this, another step we can take is to vary our news sources. If you spend a lot of time on Vox, try reading what they have to say on The Federalist. If you follow The Blaze, try following The Atlantic as well. Look at different takes on the same news story. The point doesn’t have to be to switch your allegiances, but to gain a more accurate, more complex and more compassionate understanding of those on all sides of an issue.
Think Before Repeating Something
In conversation or on social media, it can be all too easy to cite some fact or figure you’ve heard or read somewhere, but whose authenticity you’ve never bothered to verify. It’s also common practice to click “share” on an article and pass it along without reflection, commentary or critique. Often, this happens more because we want or assume such information to be true than because it necessarily is true.
As tempting as it is to succumb to this kind of confirmation bias, we have to be better. Before tacitly or explicitly endorsing an outside opinion or factoid, consider first of all whether it is actually borne out through your own research, and second of all, consider what you accomplish by repeating it. If all you accomplish is denigrating “the other side,” you probably need to reconsider.
Remember, Those You Disagree With Are People, Too
This reminder may be the most obvious one, but it’s often the most quickly forgotten. It can be especially easy now—when so many of our interactions occur over the Internet rather than face to face, and sometimes with people we don’t personally know—to treat those we disagree with as unworthy of our consideration or respect.
Yes, our disagreements with other people may be unresolvable. Yes, others may treat us unfairly or unkindly. They may indeed be wrong. They might espouse a point of view that we find not just mistaken or misguided, but reprehensible.
But they are still people—deeply sinful, just as we are, and also deeply loved, just as we are, by our mutual Father in heaven. By recognizing our own sinfulness and our own salvation, we can work harder to approach others with greater humility and with greater fellowship.
Even if we already acknowledge Scripture to be the final authority on how we act and what we believe, sometimes we simply need to remember to refocus our attention. Turning back to Scripture gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves: Am I getting invested in a particular issue because I have a Scriptural imperative to do so, or am I motivated by something else? Do my actions further or hinder Christ’s Kingdom?
Again, fighting partisanship does not mean relinquishing your own convictions. Sometimes, loving your neighbor means standing firm in disagreement, while also reaching out with compassion. It’s a tricky balancing act, which is why so many of us fail at it so often, but also a necessary one.
Victoria Le Sweatman is a lapsed atheist, unexpected Christian, wife and poet. She blogs about culture and politics at two-things-blog.blogspot.com.