Rush Limbaugh certainly draws a strong reaction from people. He is greatly adored and severely despised with very little in between. Some consider him a paragon of truth while others disdain his every word. His recent comments directed at Sandra Fluke, a third year Georgetown law student, have put him in the headlines again. Not only has he drawn a strong reaction, but anyone who comments on him must be prepared to enter into the fray of modern political polemics. So, it is with hesitation that I offer these thoughts.
First, allow me to mention something positive I see in Limbaugh (at the risk of alienating his detractors). He is a man with convictions who feels compelled to speak up and speak out. We live in a world with competing philosophies, and in this age of globalization and instant information, many have become overwhelmed with the vast array of options and the complexity of competing ideas. Many have either given up on the task of arriving at truth or they leave their thinking to experts who are more qualified to address a particular subject. If a person has developed personal convictions, he or she may not feel compelled to share them with others. But not Rush. He proclaims his message to the masses with confidence. My point is not to say that Limbaugh has all the right convictions (or wrong ones for that matter) but to simply point out that he has them and he shares them.
Second, at the risk of alienating his devotees, consider the problem with Limbaugh and modern political discourse in general (coming from the right and the left). The way that he relays his convictions are often cruel and demeaning, and this was true before he ever referenced Ms. Fluke. To be fair, Sarah Palin has been the target of similar language from the left. For both sides, these incidents do not represent a single slip of the tongue; they show a pattern of conversation that exposes how others are viewed. In today’s political arena, opponents of one’s ideology are treated as mentally inferior or morally bankrupt. Discourse becomes less an exchange of ideas than an opportunity to demonize the enemy. Civility and common decency are lacking. Mothers would certainly chide their children for such language, but grown-ups are not shackled by such an authoritarian in their midst.
They say to never discuss religion or politics, but I’m going to discuss both. Christianity shares a similar dynamic with politics, and it should be instructive on the mechanics of appropriate discourse. There is a truth-claim at stake that greatly impacts society. Christians are compelled to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, undoubtedly clashing with opposing worldviews and beliefs. Convictions and conversation are part of the deal.
With Christianity, as with politics, the way you express your convictions relays something about your view of others.The civility called for in politics actually finds its basis in Creation. The Bible teaches that every human is created by our Maker, bearing his image. Despite society’s attempts to create separate classes of people where some are elevated at the expense of others, nature reveals a commonality among all people that should be honored. When words become weapons and insults (like idiot or slut), they strip a person of their humanity. The result is an attempt to degrade an opponent’s position because they lack the “humanness” to make rational decisions and arguments. This is not the way to win the day.
Christians should stand out as people of strong conviction who love and care for others. Their speech should reflect this attitude, and they should be examples to the world of those who recognize the truths of Creation and the beauty of grace for the imperfect. Sadly, many Christians have fallen into the trap of using demeaning language in political discourse. For some, they have conflated politics and religion, forgetting what is fundamental. Too many Christians are tossed to and fro by the attitudes of the world rather than finding solid foundation in Christ.
In religion, as in politics, if discourse is not conducted in the right way, it sacrifices the message. Don’t misunderstand me. The point is not to forgo convictions or avoid controversy. The point is to conduct yourself in the right way while expressing your convictions, especially in the midst of controversy.