A Challenge: Say Something Nice

This my column that appeared in Saturday’s Arkansas-Democrat Gazette:

I’ve conducted a little experiment over the past couple of weeks. On Facebook, I posted status updates that were unqualified compliments of all the major candidates for President.

I said Donald Trump is creative and innovative. Marco Rubio is a gifted speaker. Jeb Bush and John Kasich seem like genuinely good human beings. Bernie Sanders is principled. Ted Cruz is brilliant. I appreciate Hillary Clinton’s commitment to her family and Ben Carson’s gentleness in the midst of a raucous campaign.

I did not endorse any of the candidates or indicate for whom I would vote. I simply said something nice about each and everyone of them.

Thesay-something-nice responses were both interesting and telling. Some people only liked the comments I made that were about the candidates they were supporting. Some people used policy positions to discount my assessments. Some people just made rude or personally disparaging comments about the candidates they don’t like.

All this has me wondering, why can’t we just say something nice?

Over the past several elections, I’ve become pretty concerned about the way Christians engage in politics. I’m not so much concerned about for whom Christians vote or what issues are important to them. I have many friends whose faith have led them to strong convictions on just about every side of every issue.

I’m far more concerned that the demonization and vitriol that seems to dominate American politics is just as common in people of faith as it is anyone else. I’m concerned that Christians have given themselves permission to say rude and even dishonest things to score political points. I’m concerned that followers of Jesus are decidedly not counter-cultural in how they involve themselves in the political process.

Christian pastor and best-selling author Max Lucado wrote an article recently that went viral. In it, he took Donald Trump to task for his tone and decorum. I completely agree with Lucado’s call for decency in our presidential candidates. But I don’t think he went far enough.

Why should we expect decency from the candidates when we don’t expect it from ourselves?

I’m not suggesting that Christians shouldn’t be engaged in politics. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have strong opinions. I’m not suggesting that people of faith should be quiet or doormats or stooges in the process.

Rather, I am suggesting that how we participate in the process is just as important as that we participate in the process.

And I’m pointing the finger at myself.

Before I conducted my say-something-nice experiment, I was sensing in myself the very tendencies that bother me so. In conversations with friends I was using words like idiot, moron, and criminal to describe some candidates. I was judging the motives of people I’ve never met. I was condemning people simply because I don’t necessarily like them or agree with them.

None of these things are consistent with a faith that calls me to love my neighbors and my enemies. Love is not some ethereal idea. It is supremely practical. Love has to do with what I believe about others, how I think, and what I say.

If I am going to practice the way of Jesus and love my enemies, then I’ve got to speak lovingly about them. As the apostle James wrote, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to remind myself to be loving by saying something nice.

During the 2012 election, I talked to my church congregation about these same issues. One Sunday, we had yard signs for President Obama and Mitt Romney set up around the room in which we meet. I encouraged all of us to take a sharpie and simply write complementary things on the signs about each of the candidates. It was an experiment in love. And it helped to change the tone of how one small group of Christians engaged in that election.

Our primary in Arkansas is over, but it’s not too late for us to lead the way in a revolution of love and decency. It’s not too late for us to put our faith into practice and simply say something nice.

Try it. See what happens, not just on your Facebook timeline, but also in your own heart.

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