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When Two Sides Are One Too Many

Every time NFL season rolls around, I recall a joke I wrote in my early days of stand-up comedy. (This was back when the biggest controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick was his interception to the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman in the NFC title game.) It went like this: “I love watching football, but with so many off-the-field headlines about domestic violence and brain trauma, I can’t help but feel a nagging sense of cognitive dissonance every time I tune in. I feel like the guy who’s like, ‘I know slavery is wrong and everything, but…I love a good plantation.’”

In progressive Portland, the idea that anyone could be so enamored by the cultural traditions of the Old South that they could overlook the horrors of American slavery is, well, laughable. It’s funny because it’s ridiculous—and also because it’s true.

Since then I’ve sworn off the NFL, but there are similar moral quandaries in fandom of NBA basketball, console video games, fast food, or really, any form of mass-produced entertainment. If you pay attention, you’ll inevitably discover some horrendous morsel of truth that reveals how your particular sausage is made. Rather than face that horror straight up, it’s so much easier to equivocate. I find myself saying things like, “Well, the science hasn’t been settled on that issue,” or, “It can be argued both ways,” or “It’s not as bad if I eat it while I’m walking.”

If you try hard enough, you can frame any issue as if there are two equally valid viewpoints.

This is what so many people were upset about regarding our president’s response to last August’s white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was his use of the phrase “on both sides,” implying a moral equivalence between Nazi sympathizers and those who oppose them. In the aftermath, I saw or participated in a bevy of online discussions with people who were engaged in all manner of mental and rhetorical gymnastics to either excuse or soften the hatred and bigotry on display.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that anyone who criticizes progressive protests is racist. There are times, however, when racism is blatantly obvious.

If you try hard enough, you can frame any issue as if there are two equally valid viewpoints.

The inertia of tradition, fueled by laziness and ego, tends to make us resistant to change. The inciting incident that sparked the alt-right rally in Charlottesville was the removal of a Confederate statue. While there is an argument to be made that those statues represent history that should be preserved, many people I talked to were so adamant that the rally had nothing to do with race that it was as if complicity in white supremacy was an evil spirit that could only be warded off by an incantation of “the other side of the issue.”

Like I said, I get it.

So did the Apostle James, except that he didn’t use academic-sounding language like “cognitive dissonance.” This is what he said: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8b, NIV). Earlier in that chapter James uses a lot of stark, confrontational language in an effort to persuade his audience to stop waffling about their commitment to God. He’s pretty hardcore about it; to James, double-mindedness is tantamount to wickedness.

And yet it’s clear that James sees our biggest dangers coming not from without but from within. His prescription deviates from the activist playbook. We are to resist, yes, but we also submit ourselves to God, purify our hearts, grieve, mourn, and humble ourselves.

We cannot hope to resolve our differences with each other if we cannot first resolve our inner tension with sin and pride. As an aspiring pastor with an activist streak, I know that it’s essential for me to remember to honor the work and image of God in those against whom I might find myself temporarily or ideologically opposed.

We all have stands we must take, but my hope is that like Abraham Lincoln, we’ll be less concerned with seeing both sides than making sure we’re on the side of God.

About the Author

  • Dana Bowman is a speaker and author of two memoirs: "Bottled: A Mom’s Guide to Early Recovery" and "How to Be Perfect Like Me." She attends Lindsborg (Kansas) Evangelical Covenant Church and teaches writing at Bethany College. You can read her blog at danabowmancreative.com.

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