“But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Colossians 3:8, 12-17
There is a Coptic phrase that translates pretty closely, “What you tolerate, you embrace.” This is used in both positive and negative ways. In the positive case, it means that when we are tolerant of differences, of changes, of new ideas, of other cultures, we will come to accept and even embrace them. When we are patient and non-judgmental, everyone benefits.
However, there is a negative side which is offered as a caution. When we are tolerant of hateful, arrogant, hurtful things – like racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia – we can come to embrace these ideas and actions as acceptable and normal. As Christians, we must be ever mindful and watchful for these behaviors and stand up against them. Racist, sexist, exclusionary and hostile behaviors are not acceptable. And this charge to oppose such behaviors crosses all lines of theology, politics, culture, and creed. Bad behavior is bad behavior, and when we witness it, we should name it for what it is.
I have great respect and regard for the position of the president of the United States, regardless of the party he (or perhaps, one day, she) represents. I have been shocked and dismayed by racist and sexist comments made by our current president. It does not matter what party is in power, no one has the right to tell United States citizens, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Let me be clear, the president of the United States has the right to disagree with, and even criticize, those who make comments about how the country is being run. But to attack, to demean, to disrespect, and to deny their citizenship is unacceptable. It sets a standard that cannot be tolerated – for to tolerate it is to embrace it.
We can do better. We must do better. We must be better. And we need to call our leaders – of every party and political perspective – to exemplify the kind of behavior that befit a civilized and healthy society. While there is a separation of church and state, there are still some basic tenets of common decency and respect that people of any faith, or no faith, can share.
Most of us are taught from childhood to be kind, to share, to refrain from hitting, to not call people names, to be respectful of the feelings of others. We have a basic grasp of what to do and what not to do. Being kind, considerate, patient, loving, helpful, and tolerant are all signs of maturity. Few people rank bullying, being abusive, being disrespectful, insulting, or intentionally hurtful as mature behaviors. We all know better. And as a people who follow a savior who instructs us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) we cannot be tolerant of such things as racism and sexism, regardless of the source.
I invite us to pray for our president and our politicians. Our government leaders are not in a good place when it comes to treating one another with respect. Our culture has become tolerant of many of the behaviors Jesus and Paul warned against. There is much angry, malicious, abusive, and slanderous language used by our political leaders. And as our leaders lead, so do we often follow their example. But let us offer a different way, a better way. Let us turn aside wrath and malice and slander and abuse. Let us call for a new rhetoric and a new language – a language of grace and peace and hope and compassion and love. Take time to let your representatives – at all levels – know you are watching and listening. Let them know when they do well but hold them to account when they abuse their position and engage in hateful, hurtful, and damaging talk and behavior. In time, as we become more tolerant of each other, perhaps we will embrace a gospel vision of kindness and love for all.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).