“All of Us Are Mostly Peaceful”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

For much of the past year, many Christians (myself included) have sneered at the Orwellian reporting on the racial unrest following the death of George Floyd.  Journalists have repeatedly described the demonstrations as “mostly peaceful”, despite the devastation of entire city blocks.  With contemptuous precision, we pointed to the rubble and described the proceedings as “riots”.  We declared ourselves unsatisfied with progressive leaders’ apparently lukewarm condemnations of lawlessness.

These days, it seems the shoe is on the other foot.  The same journalists who described the protests last summer as “mostly peaceful” do not hesitate to declare the disturbance last Wednesday an insurrection.  Now, it is conservative politicians whose condemnations are insufficiently vituperative.

Conversely, I saw on Facebook the other day a report on the events by a brother and friend who was in attendance.  He saw tens of thousands of people assembling without violence, and even though he participated in the march to the Capitol, he was not aware that anyone had forced their way inside until he saw it on the news.  Though he condemned the violence, he deeply resented the depiction of himself and other innocent attendees as participants in a coup.

All of us, it seems, are mostly peaceful.

This is a difficult truth to acknowledge.  In addition to all the other symmetries described above, both sides have attributed the worst behavior of their allies to false-flag enemies.  The news last summer was rife with rumors that those who instigated the looting were right-wing extremists.  This time around, brethren have continually claimed that the people who broke into the Capitol were antifa pretending to be Trump supporters.  Unsurprisingly, the identity of any of these shadowy provocateurs has proven elusive.

The moral of the story is, apparently, that any group of people has bad people in it, and none of us like to admit that about our people.  This is true with respect to Democrats and Republicans, and it’s true with respect to the Lord’s church too.

Most of us have had conversations with church-haters (either former members or members on their way out the door) who depict a very different church than the one we know and love.  To them, people in churches of Christ are hardhearted, unloving, gossipy, mean-spirited, hypocritical, legalistic, more concerned with politics than Christ, and uninterested in grace.  In response, we tend to either a) deny that we see such things, or b) claim that the people who act like that aren’t really Christians.

Sound familiar?

It is a hard thing to listen humbly to one’s enemies.  It’s an even harder thing to separate the fiction that they wish were truth from the truth that we wish were fiction.  However, if we want to be conformed to the image of Christ, we need a mirror like that.

I believe that most Christians are godly most of the time.  However, I also believe that there is evil among us and evil within us, and the words of even the most hateful church critic contain an echo of something that is both ugly and true.  Despite our salvation, we remain all too human.  Only if we are willing to confront our imperfections honestly can we rise above ourselves.