Part One: How to Be Less Rabid
a. Read like a scholar.
Read longform over short. The form dictates the content. Television is less
conducive to deep, thorough evaluation than are written forms. Longer research (think Foreign Affairs, The Economist, The Atlantic) allows ideas to be fully supported and counterarguments to be explored. You don’t have to agree with the ideas! In fact, any opinions worth holding will be better for the challenge. For straight facts, AP headlines or a local broadcast are your friends. But 24-hour news cycles favor the titillating over the edifying, and the worst thing you can do is bounce around the walls of an echo chamber in a red-faced snit.
Speaking of red-faced snits, read sober articles, not angry ones. All good arguments can be made with a tone meant to lead the student into discourse, not to stir his baser passions. If the writer is snarling, find someone who can handle ideas with equanimity. If the writer (or speaker) needs to create a frenzy, he may be distracting you from really evaluating his claims. No one does his best thinking while angry.
Read serious, not sarcastic. Nothing degrades both speaker and listener so much as sarcasm. If you enjoy the set up and knock down of a quick-witted pundit, ask yourself whether you even care about persuasion and real civil discourse. Because belittlement and meanness have no positive function outside of bar fights. Such tactics polarize, but never convert. If you love snarky victories, you might also have enjoyed gladiatorial matches in Ancient Rome (see what I did there?) Conscientious disagreement involves painting your opponent and his view in the most charitable light possible, thereby crystallizing the real points of divergence and setting a noble example to boot.
b. Remember your purpose.
Wayne Grudem enumerates the purposes of the church as a threefold mission: 1) to God, worship, 2) to believers, nurture, and 3) to the world, evangelism and mercy. When the church applies itself to these three missions, it plays a long, strong game. When it gets itchy, it loses faith in the long game that God has designed, and usurps various roles never assigned to it. Our battles are spiritual and local, as are our tools: to pray fervently, to read Scripture earnestly and comprehensively, to love unreservedly, to let God hold the outcomes.
c. Don’t be idle.
Feeding our indignation can feel like meaningful action. But the work of the kingdom is rarely accomplished over social media or in yelling matches. Picketing, or stapling campaign packets, or typing out a hasty response online may feel like fighting the good fight, but it’s often a distraction from the glamour-less work of sitting by the bedsides of the infirm, mopping the church hallways, or babysitting the grubby children of a frazzled neighbor. J.I. Packer clarifies, “Jesus encourages his disciples to match worldly persons’ ingenuity in using their resources to further their goals,” but he specifies that “their proper goals have to do not with earthly security but with heavenly glory [emphasis mine].” He lists as responsibilities of Christians to urge, pray for, obey and watch over governments (238), but while much evangelical political activity might claim to fall within the categories of urging or watching over, Packer repeatedly cites 1 Peter 2:13-17 as an apt Biblical guide. Where specific actions are not mentioned in Scripture, it is yet sufficient in principles to guide. Peter’s emphasis is clearly that in action relating to worldly governments, Christians are to be so above reproach, even as they exercise their freedoms, as to always bear faithful witness to the gospel. Winning points is quite beside the point, and the point is this: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness…” Love your God and love your neighbor so radically that all the political world is awed by your example and God is glorified.