Politics as war and enmity

Some conservatives argue we should see “politics as war and enmity.” Are they right?

No, they are not.

Yes, they are.

That seems contradictory, but that is the correct approach. We should see politics as war and enmity, and we should not see politics as war and enmity. The key is context, which is something that some conservatives do not understand. Context is everything, and we must see political conflict in its proper context. The context is the behavior and motivations of our political opponents.

In a perfect world, politics would not be seen as “war and enmity” at all. We would debate the best course for public policy, chart that course though legislation passed and enforced by legitimate elected leaders within a constitutional republic, and accept the results when we do not get what we want. But life is not like a civics class textbook, and there are real consequences to policy for real people. Therefore, emotions are going to run higher for some than others, and sometimes the arguments are going to be bitter and highly personal.

But even recognizing the real-world consequences of policy, we should approach political arguments with civility. This begins by assuming the other side has good motivations and is acting in good faith. Then we approach the arguments with logic and principle instead of anger. Much of the rhetoric about repeatedly facing a “Flight 93” scenario is evidence of a failure to realize that many times the other side actually is acting in good faith. I have often failed in to uphold this principle, and I will continue to fail. I have tried to do better and will continue to do so.

With that said, assuming good motives does not mean we should abandon our discernment. This is especially true for Christians. If we are publicly faithful at all, we will have enemies. They will try to destroy us personally and professionally. There are people who act in bad faith, and who behave treacherously. We should recognize that and react with the knowledge that these people have chosen to be our enemies. We should not designate someone as an enemy without provocation, but we should recognize when someone has decided we are their enemy.

Let’s try to advance our policy goals and stop bad policy with civility and grace, but we should not be foolish. Do not seek to create enemies, but be wise enough to recognize when enemies exist. Do not assume every political opponent is an enemy, but do not assume you have no enemies. This is hard work, and we will make mistakes in both directions.

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