Toxic Culture and Human Dignity: Speaking Sanity into Christian Citizenship

A version of this article first appeared in the Evangelical Press Association’s spring issue of Liaison

From the debates over abortion and religious liberty to presidential elections and international conflicts, every day seems to bring about new battle lines and harden consciences. It is easier than ever to treat the “other” side of a debate or ballot box as our enemy. Twenty-four hour
cable news networks are often more partisan than balanced, and social media has exacerbated this problem because we are disconnected from flesh and blood human beings as we debate in our feeds.

Tensions might not be as bad as they were during the American Civil War, but Christians from across the political spectrum are beginning to see the toxic culture we inhabit and too often embody.

As the winds of the culture war pick up speed in 2020, Christ speaks a calming word of peace that gives us eternal perspective. In Matthew 22:37-39, Christ sums up the entirety of the Law and Prophets, stating that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” With those short words, God shows us a path forward through some of the most divisive issues and models what is means to be an authentic Christian disciple and citizen in the 21st century.

Demonizing the dissenters

With a quick scroll on social media or a moment of cable news, we find some of the most profane and dehumanizing talk about other people. Left and right, religious and secular, no one is immune to these dehumanizing ways that our neighbors are portrayed. Our political enemies quickly become objects of our wrath and consternation. Our fellow believers mock and slander as we seek to prove a point about our own righteousness.

Amidst the fog of our daily lives and the latest happenings in our culture, it is easy for even the most faithful to forget about the words of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves. We must put aside political or social disagreements at times and remember that our most fervent “enemies” are just the opposite. Every person in our society, including those with whom we have fundamental differences with, is created in God’s image and thus has infinite worth and dignity as defined by God (Genesis 1:26-28). We must step back and remember that our enemy isn’t of flesh and blood but of the principalities and powers of darkness in this world. We must not trample upon, dehumanize, and devalue our fellow image beares through the ways we speak of them–regardless of our disagreements. Our image bearing status transcends any differences we have with one another when we truly see our neighbor as ourselves.

Loving our neighbors and holding fast

So what does it look like to uphold the dignity of our neighbor in the 21st century? First, it means that we must, at times, put away the things that divide us in order to see our neighbor as a person. It is often easier for us to identify ourselves to a watching world by our party affiliation, age, or vocation than as Christians. Jesus calls us to see our identity, first and foremost, as created by God in his image and, upon profession, ultimately as a sinner saved by grace. As Christians, our identity is determined by a bloodied body that hung on a tree in order to break the veil over our eyes and make us right with the One who created us (2 Corinthians 3:14, Acts

Second, loving our neighbor as ourselves means that we don’t give up on important debates and issues. Christians are called to stand up for the oppressed, downtrodden, and weak. We stand against the horrors of abortion because we know that every life is worthy (Psalm 139:13-14). We speak for those who can’t speak for themselves (Matthew 25:35-36). We pursue justice for those denied justice and don’t justify their oppression regardless of who they are or where they live (Isaiah 1:17). We are to speak with conviction but also kindness to all because we know that we are not our own but have been bought with a price.

Our lives should be characterized by truth and the love of God as we stand in solidarity with our fellow image bearers. Christ did not die to score a cheap political victory or to win an argument. He bled and died to give us true life. And that life is to be lived in reverence of Him as we seek to love our neighbors.