“Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’” 2 Chronicles 20:15a
Civil discourse in the United States is all but dead. There are occasional whispers of calm, measured rhetoric, but it’s quickly drowned out by megaphone ranting.
With stress from the bad news and events thus far in 2020, it’s easy to become instantly irritable…and take it out on those around us. This anger is particularly odious, though, when displayed in the feedback comments on news websites. Name-calling. Venomous expletives. Character assassination. Demeaning insults. Not exactly marks of Christian integrity.
Nowhere is it worse, however, than on social media. Let’s call it “friendly fire”–which is what happens when armed forces sustain casualties from their own weapons. The very people who have “friended” us become “unfriends” over political disagreement.
Guess what? This is absolutely nothing new. Let me tell you a story from more than a century ago:
Among my husband’s ancestors were the Lightbournes from England (the origin of my PR business/website moniker) who, over a few generations in the U.S., changed their name to Lightburn. Mark’s great-great-grandmother was Salina Lightburn Romine, a sister to five brothers. They all lived near Jane Lew, a little town in what was Virginia before the Civil War, now West Virginia.
As the Civil War erupted, the state became divided, and so did the Lightburn family. The oldest of Salina’s brothers, Joseph Andrew Jackson Lightburn, was commissioned to the Union Army, eventually serving as a prominent brigadier general in battles at Vicksburg, Jackson (Miss.), Missionary Ridge, and Atlanta. Two other brothers, Captain Martin Van Buren Lightburn and First Lieutenant Calvin Luther Lightburn, also served the Union during the war. All three of these Lightburn men were wounded in battle. The youngest brother, Benjamin Franklin Lightburn, was too young to join and remained home.
Salina’s remaining brother “seceded” from his family—John Fell Lightburn joined the Confederate Army, fought in the battle at Gettysburg, became wounded as well, and wound up in the prisoner-of-war camp at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. (Coincidentally, my great-great-grandfather from Alabama, George Washington Ridley, was a POW there at the same time.)
After the war ended, Joseph returned home to recuperate and resumed his call as a minister, serving in the Baptist church until his death in 1901. John, however, joined the Westward movement, most likely because he was alienated from his brothers. He migrated through Kansas and Wyoming until he breathed his last in California.
However, he came back East at one point…to join other soldiers at Gettysburg for a reunion, possibly the big 50thanniversary gathering in 1913 with more than 53,000 veterans, including almost 9,000 Confederates. Mark’s grandfather Dewey Randolph, a teenager at the time, accompanied his great-uncles at the ceremonies—probably John with Martin or Calvin. Although the event was reported to be mostly harmonious, Dewey in later years recalled that the older men got into a heated verbal argument over who won the Civil War!
Another curious side to this story? Joseph grew up as a close friend of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, one of his nearby neighbors in West Virginia…and they stayed friends until death. Jackson, a noteworthy Confederate general, was killed by “friendly fire” from Confederate pickets at the battle of Chancellorsville, Va., in 1863. Both men were devout Christians. As far as I can tell, they never faced each other on the battlefield.
If we take a look back at history, internal quarreling without reconciliation is poisonous. The sin of refusing to end slavery and the resulting Civil War cost us a horrific number of lives. It took decades for our nation to recover.
Right now, America is torn by conflicts in the streets, opposition vs. support for law enforcement officers, party affiliations, racial differences, and even masking vs. unmasking. People who simply disagree with each other have become outraged enemies. We’ve turned politics into an all-out war, no matter what the issue may be.
At its worst, “friendly fire” is deadly to the body of Christ. When we attack our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are truly the hand shooting the foot—we incapacitate our body and fill it with pain. “Friendly fire” can destroy entire churches.
How do we keep from falling prey to this kind of harm?
- STOP…and think. Is what I’m about to say or write online destructive, or does it build others up? Am I feeding my pride and smugness, or will I humble myself to speak kindly? If possible, sleep on it. Time cools off hot moments. I’ve usually been ashamed of myself after saying or writing a rant…which is why you should discard a lot of that stuff before pressing “enter” or opening your mouth to speak.
- Take ranting to God. That’s what the psalmists did, especially David when he was distraught and despaired. Let God cool you off and give you His wisdom on how to respond to tense situations.
- Build others up…even your “enemies.” Acknowledge first to yourself and then to others that you value them as people, even if you disagree with them. There is no place for insults when debating issues. Proverbs 15:1 says that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” So true. Make your words soft and compassionate.
- Let it go. When others attack you personally because of your stand or position on an issue or candidate, it’s an opportunity to turn the other cheek. You don’t have to agree, but you can keep silent…just as Jesus Himself remained silent when interrogated by Pontius Pilate and crucified by enraged people. Yes, there are moments when you should speak up to defend yourself or others, times when you should publicly proclaim what is true and right, but some attacks don’t deserve a rebuttal. Ask God to give you discernment.
People, we have real enemies out there. And it’s time we recognized that we are brothers and sisters who need to defend each other, respect each other, and—dare I say it—love each other as human beings.
Need to take a stand for Christ on important social issues? Talk to Jesus, our Commander-in-Chief first. Ask Him to show you how to speak His truth to legislators, court authorities, community influencers, political leaders, and candidates. We cannot change hearts, but God’s truth will if we communicate it in His strength and love.
May we all avoid “friendly fire” by being Christ’s friends to the world.
Jesus, our Brother and Savior, forgive us for our self-centered views that isolate us from others, especially fellow believers. Teach us Your truth, Your vision, Your commandments about loving others. Help us to reach out with respect to those around us, turning away wrath with Your gentleness and compassion. Just as You were the sacrificial Lamb for us, help us to sacrifice our egos on the altar, to bring Your truth and hope to a hurting world. In Your name, Amen.
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© Copyright 2020 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative