The Associated Press is reporting that the firearms industry is in sharp decline. Gun manufacturers are laying off factory employees as demand for guns at the retail level plummets.
While an advocate of gun control was in the White House, gun sales increased 362 percent. Now that a strong supporter of gun rights has replaced him, the bubble has burst.
As I read this article in the Sunday paper, I thought to myself, “This really says it all about America.” We have become an “oppositional” culture. While pockets of people are active in supporting various causes, most of the political energy in our country is in opposition to something or someone. Support for elected officials and legislation is never as intense as opposition against them. To put it differently, when we lose our basis for being angry, we almost instantly grow complacent, until whatever it is we take for granted is threatened or taken away.
The healthcare debate is a good example. After Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, congressional town hall meetings were jammed with protesters angry about the “government takeover” of healthcare, even though many of those protesting were already Medicare recipients. Yet when a new Congress began moving swiftly to repeal ACA, representatives and Senators found their town hall meetings filled with constituents protesting the new bill that threatened to take away the healthcare they’ve only been able to afford since ACA became law seven years ago.
The once deliberative and judicious Senate has now devolved into an oppositional body, abandoning even the search for bi-partisan consensus on any consequential decision. Last year, the Republican majority decided in advance to oppose Obama’s Supreme Court nominee without even giving him a hearing. This year, the Democratic minority is returning the favor, poised to filibuster Trump’s nominee and likely trigger a rules change that will sweep away one of the few remaining vestiges of bi-partisan cooperation.
There are multiple reasons for the rise of oppositionalism. Gerrymandering of congressional districts has led to the near elimination of political pragmatism in favor of extreme partisanship, which results in a polarizing legislative process. Twenty-four-hour cable news outlets and social media have gradually led to the nationalization of nearly everything. We have lost any common source of information and have instead created an environment where reality itself is politicized. If you don’t like what is objectively true, you can easily find a source that supports an alternative reality that aligns with your beliefs. This in turn creates an industry of opposing truth by creating different truth, which in turn engenders an oppositional approach to life itself.
This mentality has affected everything, right down to local communities. Neighborhoods are being diminished by “list-serves” that substitute for actual face-to-face interaction and create “virtual communities” aligned less by geographical proximity than by shared suspicion about “what’s going on” in the area. Public schools often become battlegrounds between teachers trying to manage diverse classrooms and parents who assume an adversarial posture with whoever is working with their children. Older communitarian groups that relied on shared interests, like veterans’ groups and civic clubs, are dying and being replaced by competitive sports leagues (which of course are oppositional by nature) and on-line communities that excuse people from ever having to associate with anyone who has a different point of view from their own (or worse, gives them the freedom to mercilessly blast anyone with an opposing perspective).
As we approach Holy Week, it occurs to me that when Jesus went to Jerusalem for the last time, he was entering an oppositional culture. Political tensions were high in the Holy City during Passover. Several insurgent movements were looking for opportunities to assert Judean nationalism and overthrow Roman rule and the Temple priesthood. When Jesus entered the city, he was greeted by thousands of people who were pinning their oppositional hopes on him. During that last week of his earthly ministry, Jesus did indeed confront the corrupt priesthood and take direct action against the commercialization of the Temple. But mostly what he did was teach. He kept telling people about the same kingdom he had announced while he was ministering in the much more placid region of Galilee. To the frustration and consternation of many of his supporters, Jesus refused to align himself with any political party. He never flatly condemned Roman occupation, though his words and actions promoted an ethic that was opposed to the ethic of empire politics.
Jesus stood against oppression, abuse, exploitation, and exclusivism. But all of his opposition was a by-product of what he lived and died for – the love, forgiveness, mercy, and justice of God. He was passionate, to the point of death, for the kingdom of God, and never gave up hope for any person, not even the thieves crucified next to him or members of the politico-religious coalition who plotted against him. It is no surprise that the rabidly oppositional culture in Jerusalem finally nailed him to a cross, hoping to silence his absurd message of love and reconciliation.
But of course, Jesus’ death is not the end of the story. When the world said “no” to him, God responded with a resounding “yes” in the resurrection. We who make up the community of the risen Christ are called to affirm God’s “yes” in a culture of “no.” As Paul wrote to believers in Rome, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Our posture toward the world is not oppositional. It is hopeful. Our energy is not fed by anger over what we oppose, but by the joy instilled in us by the Holy Spirit. Our incentive to be in the world is not what we are against, but what we believe with all our hearts – that God loves the world so much that he gave everything to redeem it.
Being church in this political climate is hard. It’s so easy to fall into an oppositional mode that simply takes one side or the other in the various “culture wars.” Lots of churches have done that and have experienced tremendous growth because they provide an outlet for people’s anger. But how is that promoting the kingdom of God? What does it profit us to gain the whole world if we lose the church’s soul? I’m far less concerned with how big our church is than with how faithful we are to what we believe – what we are for because of God’s “yes.”
It’s not an easy path. In fact, it’s getting harder. But we must not abandon this path, for it is the only way that leads to life.
©2017 by J. Mark Lawson