Dr. Arthur Brooks spoke at the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. His message was not well received by some, but it is a message we need to hear.
America is facing a crisis. Scorched earth politics, demands to “fundamentally change” our country, and violence against political opponents are symptoms. Dr. Brooks, a Harvard professor, identified the problem as a crisis of contempt, defined as “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” How did we get there? Market-driven reporting and ill-informed opinions foment outrage, which triggers contempt, which erupts into the headlines of the day.
People who disagree with your politics have the same worth as you, made in the image of God. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). You express God’s image within you by loving even those who hate you and pray that they, too, rise to the image of God within them. God loved you before you loved him, so likewise, you may have to be first in tamping down your own outrage and contempt. By the way, recognizing the image of God in every person includes not only your political opponent, but also the aged, infirm, disabled, people of different race or creed, and unborn humans.
When Christians follow Jesus, we lead the way to reconciliation. He taught a lofty ethic, the way we ought to live. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45). Can partisan D’s and R’s really love each other? If you follow Jesus, you have no choice. To do otherwise is to lose sight of what it means to be truly human.
Dr. Brooks said, “True moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree, on behalf of those with whom you disagree.” Don’t let people who do agree with you get away with contempt for those who don’t. Speaking up is your opportunity to follow Jesus, to bend the curve toward a kinder, gentler nation.
“I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other,” Dr. Brooks said. When you make the ethics of Jesus your own, your world is a better place. But the one who chooses love over contempt is the one who benefits most, by relieving stress on body and soul. You can only carry contempt in a bucket of outrage, a weighty load indeed.