Why I Stopped Posting Political Memes


Meme by William Loring. Used with permission and encouragement.

Of course I have opinions on politics. They are many and they are strong. And like the opinions of most people, they are not in point-by-point synchronization with some monolithic party platform. They do not neatly fall to one side or the other of what is fast becoming a high and impenetrable wall on the border between Liberalstan and Conservatica. Partly because a) not every idea is at its core a partisan one no matter how hard we try to make it so, and b) thinking people realize the framework of any “-ism” gets increasingly bent and banged and in need of modification the more it is applied to actual living persons and events.

As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering backing away from any use of “liberal” or “conservative” to describe human beings as individuals or groups. Maybe ideas can be classified so, but the person who observes no exception to an ideology is hopefully as rare as I would like to believe. Tempted as I am to paint an entire population of voters with a broad red or blue brush, people I actually know don’t fit into those categories. Yet sadly, many of the same people who complain about being painted with that broad brush don’t see the hypocrisy in using it to paint “the opposition” with the enthusiasm of a majority shareholder in Sherwin Williams.

And that’s where the political memes come in. Once upon a time, in the heat of the last presidential election and slightly afterward, I found a certain satisfaction in sharing ones that seemed clever. Things changed. Maybe it was me; maybe it was the political conversation. I’m not naïve enough to think politics hasn’t always been ugly (and historically speaking even uglier than it is now). Until recently, however, bad ideas took a lot longer to travel. We couldn’t correspond instantly with everyone whose ideas we found offensive. Serious disagreement required effort and forethought. For that matter, so did agreement. I imagine Lincoln and Douglas could find a lot of common ground in being mutually horrified that days-long debate had been reduced to a couple hours of sound bites further reduced by commercial breaks. Twitter would have seemed like the apocalypse.


Political memes as we understand them aren’t actually meant to communicate. We may think they are because the original concept of a meme was an idea that spread like a virus, but that kind of meme wasn’t intentionally created. Just as viruses spontaneously occurring in nature have been engineered and weaponized, so has the meme. Political memes are meant to whip up the base, not to inform the uninformed. Sure they often pretend to address the snowflakes or the fascists, but that’s so the sharer of the meme can get a little thrill out of feeling like he or she is sticking it to the (largely stereotyped if not outright imagined) opposition. If you were actually out to persuade someone, would you start by insulting their intelligence?

And for those who aren’t bright enough to understand why, the correct answer is “no.”

See how that made you feel?


The virus comparison doesn’t stop with the rapid spread of memes. When we use our powers for good, viruses can be the source of life-saving vaccines. The political meme also inoculates us … but unfortunately the “disease” it protects us from is reason. See, to achieve reasonableness, we can’t just double-down on the ideas we already like. We have to weigh them against the ones that challenge us. Enough doses of the bad logic of political memes (we’ll get into that shortly) eventually trains us to think badly and call it smart. The (often poorly executed) “cleverness” of the political meme also reinforces the idea that sarcasm and irony are tools to be used by everyone. They’re not. Very few people can use them effectively as rhetorical devices.

Instead what we get most of the time is someone listening to a point of view not to fairly consider it, but to refute it in a way that gets in a zing. Doesn’t matter if said refutation actually makes sense, because it makes us feel briefly superior. And that’s what the memes are for: replacing reconciliation with the satisfaction of a cheap shot. Common ground is merely an obstacle.


To me, one of the most troubling aspects of political memes is how easily they encourage people to forego critical thinking. We don’t want to fact-check anything that reinforces our existing opinions. And even if the facts are correct, how often are they used logically?

One popular style of meme is posting photos or quotes side-by-side to illustrate an implied contrast. For example, showing one politician reacting charitably to a disaster while another is one the golf course at allegedly the same time. Or maybe one person’s best words against another person’s worst. Photos and quotes have context, and in the digital age they are in infinite supply. Anyone can look bad or good for the split-second it takes to be exposed to a camera. Unrelated images and quotes tell us exactly nothing, but we’re willing to project a lot onto them.

Closely related is the meme that forgets we can do two things at the same time. Support good police officers and check bad ones?  Both things can – and should! – happen. Yet any critique of unnecessary police violence must mean you hate law enforcement, and any expression of support for law enforcement must make you a racist. At least according to the poor logic of political memes. Neither stance should be a partisan issue, but too often we express one as reaction and negation to the other because we equate challenging viewpoints with censorship and react disproportionately. Kids, we improve when we think critically about our own positions, not when we start shouting about who’s rubber and who’s glue.

Then there’s good old Double Standard, and its second cousin Whatabout. Notice how people’s definition of “too much time on the golf course” tends to change with the party of the president? Or for what the first lady wears? Or moral lapses? And when people criticize us for letting Double Standard sidle up to the table, we invite Whatabout for reinforcement. He’s really distracting, constantly yelling about how your guy (or gal) did the same or something worse. We don’t let our kids get away with two wrongs making a right, but we let our politicians slide if they’re on our team. How about this idea: both of them can be wrong, or maybe the offense wasn’t really an offense at all. Hypocrisy is the oxygen feeding the flames of illogic.

Finally we have the presumed offense. In politics, for every action there seems to be an equal and opposite preaction. What’s that mean? Think about school shootings. Anymore after one happens, the memes start flying about what we presume the other side is saying. We don’t even wait for them to actually say it. Fortunately for us, this puts them into the position of either confirming our preconceptions (if one is right mustn’t they all be right?) or defending their position. We win either way without ever having to actually engage people of different viewpoints. Almost anything that looks like policy debate on television is merely the preaction reaction. And what happens on Facebook should stay in Vegas.

Only when we return to logical thinking, instead of defensive memery and one-upsmanship, can we hope to actually communicate instead of shouting over each other. The danger of memes isn’t just the momentary reaction as we scroll by them on our timeline, it’s how they retrain us to see each other as opponents instead of companions.


At this point some readers will undoubtedly think I’m telling them to stop posting political memes. Nope. I’m telling you why I did. If you assume expressing my opinion means I’m telling you what to do, please re-read the previous section. That’s part of the big problem: the breakdown of logic has taught us to hear an argument or an opinion as a threat to our own freedom. “Snowflakes” come in red, white and blue. I am darkly amused when someone who posts about how people are too easily offended by mere words … then get offended by different words. Everyone is offended by something. The trick is not to justify your offense while minimizing someone else’s. Do that enough, and you’ll handle offense like an adult.


So why write about all this on a Christian blog anyway?

Nobody keeps their politics and their faith (or at least their moral beliefs) separate. If we think we do … Surprise! We’ve put faith second.

But if we put faith first, specifically faith in Christ, we are committed to being humble voices of reconciliation and justice. Humble voices often don’t feel like they’re accomplishing much. One at a time, maybe they aren’t.  So we need to stick together and see Christ in each other and be Christ to each other. That means offering dignity and peace even when – especially when – it costs us. Peacemaking is a slow, relentless business. It requires listening more than speaking. Giving more than defending.

Humility isn’t fun. Tribalism and smugness are fun. Terrible, but fun.

Love your enemy. Don’t mock them. Don’t belittle them. Don’t make sport of their feelings and well-being. Love them.

If you can do that in a meme, let’s hope it goes viral.

Peace to you.

Common Ground


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Leviticus 26:1-20, 1 Timothy 2:1-6, Matthew 13:18-23

Politically speaking, Christians are all over the map. Conservative, moderate, or progressive, we all believe the principles of our faith inform our decisions about how to vote. How can it be we vary so widely? The Southern Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ read the same Bible, but arrive at very different conclusions about gay marriage. Jimmy Carter and Mike Huckabee are famously Christian, but agree on little when it comes to the moral implications of federal budget making. These organizations and people are passionate about their faith, but understand it in very different ways. How should we respond to such a polarizing environment?

If we are to find common ground, we need to start from the ground up, rather than the top down. For example, both conservative and progressive Christians should want to address poverty, since Christ tells us to take care of the poor and the sick. One side endorses a free market solution, while the other relies more heavily on social programs. Both approaches could benefit from insights of the other, but in the top-down scuffle to impose ideology on actual lives, the poor are treated more like turf than people. Whatever end of the spectrum we fall on, Christianity is not about winning, it is about serving, and the tribalism of politics make us lose sight of that.

The first letter to Timothy advises believers “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” When it comes to modern politics, “dignity” doesn’t exactly spring to mind. In a culture where winners say “respect the office” and losers claim “the officeholder is illegitimate,” the message remains revolutionary.

Even when a candidate we despise wins office, we should pray for them to be successful in serving the people well. Our actions in the public sphere should reflect a humility to serve, not the viciousness of campaign rhetoric. Christians have always disagreed. Our role is to model how to disagree with love.

Comfort: Standing up for your beliefs doesn’t have to mean alienating those who believe differently.

Challenge: Spend some time listening to or watching conservative or liberal radio or television – whichever one you tend not to agree with. Do so with an intent of discovering common ground.

Prayer: God of diversity, help me hear truth, even when it is spoken by those I am inclined to disagree with. Amen.

Discussion: Do you extend a fist or an handshake to those who disagree with  you?

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The Roseanne Reboot is a Nightmare (for political purists)

roseanne reboot publicity photo

The Roseanne reboot premiered to spectacular ratings, despite the many liberal and progressive voices publicly declaring they would not watch it because of the titular star’s enthusiastic support of President Trump, and conservatives boycotting it for including a “gender creative” grandchild. If I had to label my own political leanings, I think of myself as a left-of-center moderate – which generally means plenty of self-identifying conservatives classify me as a liberal and self-identifying liberals as ideologically impure.

I watched the double-episode Roseanne premier and I laughed. A lot. Much like the Will & Grace reboot, the characters fell into their old roles and relationships pretty seamlessly. Divisive politics were a prominent theme, but isn’t that going on in living rooms all over the United States?

The last election created political rifts in my own family for the first time that I can remember.  It’s not that we’ve always been in lockstep over candidates or even issues, but that this last election felt personal in ways previous ones never had. I am grateful that we are now getting back to a place where we can discuss policy and issues, rather than litigating yet again the morality of voting for either candidate. What’s done is done. Once more we can delve into the nuances of immigration, economics, gun control, health care, racism and other issues with rhetorical passion but without personal venom.

For a while I was convinced one’s choice of candidate revealed something more significant about them than it actually did. It turns out voting for the “other” candidate doesn’t make you a monster. I just can’t bring myself to stereotype any stripe of voter because we were all the same people before and after the election. We didn’t have fascists and snowflakes (or people throwing around ridiculously inappropriate terms like fascist and snowflake) in the family before, and we don’t have them now.

What I think has been much more revelatory is whether post-election one is more loyal to parties, candidates, and ideologies than to ideas and principles. In other words, do you defend the indefensible because it’s “your team” or do you aim for consistency and integrity? Plenty of people on both sides have passed or failed this standard.

And that brings us back to Roseanne. Many people seem not to be able to put aside Roseanne Barr’s personal (though very publicly expressed) politics to give the show a chance. But Barr is hardly the only contributor to this endeavor. Executive producer and actor Sara Gilbert (daughter Darlene) and actor Laurie Metcalf (sister Jackie) are integral to the show, and both have political viewpoints very divergent from Barr’s. Actor John Goodman (husband Dan) is largely apolitical as far as public persona goes. Do Barr’s politics trump (no pun intended) everyone else’s because she gets top billing? No viewpoint is silenced. Everyone looks equally ridiculous.

Are we so entrenched – are our beliefs and worldviews so fragile – that we can’t tolerate exposure to any enterprise that doesn’t completely conform to them, even when it espouses other values we agree with?

The following paragraph contains a few spoilers to make some points, so just skip it if you like – you’ll still be able to keep up.

Most confounding to ideological purists might be the characters’ lack of adherence to stereotyping. Grandmother Roseanne forcefully defends the clothing choices of her grandchild Mark – who does not identify as transgender but does identify as a someone most comfortable in traditionally feminine clothing. Does that sound like the left’s characterization of a stereotypical Trump supporter? Even when it seems the characters are about to prove the stereotypes right – Roseanne refers to Hillary Clinton as “the worst person in the world” and Jackie can’t resist making a point of wearing a pink pussy hat and Nasty Woman t-shirt to their reunion after a year-long, politically-driven estrangement – the expected vitriol makes an appearance but is ultimately unsustainable. It would seem we can maintain the anger only as long as we can maintain our self-imposed distance, but once love and necessity force us to interact … we start to remember who we were. The differences don’t disappear, but they are reduced to a controlled simmer.

Politics may be the current vehicle of the new show, but it’s not the destination. Roseanne continues primarily to be about how a struggling family gets through life together. Once the pressing problems of health, employment, deployment, and identity assert themselves, the characters – and we – remember politics divides us much more than it ever solves anything. Getting through life together isn’t a matter of accusing and persuading, but loving and serving.

I believe the program we need right now isn’t one where everyone in the family has reached a unified liberal or conservative consensus, but one that shows us how to be family despite our imperfections and (sometimes very raw) disagreements. Like the Roseanne of decades ago, the current incarnation reflects what’s going on in our own living rooms and at our own kitchen tables. There’s room for everyone – and for everyone to be pissed off. This cast has obviously become a family in more than a scripted sense, and as such they have learned to harness their common goals toward creation rather than let their differences drive them to enmity. Like it or not, that’s progress.

Paulitically Correct

Today’s readings (click  below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 34; 146, Lamentations 1:17-22, 2 Corinthians 1:8-22, Mark 11:27-33

Remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials where one person walked down the sidewalk carrying chocolate, another person rounded the corner carrying peanut butter, and they collided? “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” Then smiles as a voice announced: “Two great tastes that taste great together!” Religion and politics are the opposite of whatever that was: mix them together and it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

The chief priests, scribes, and elders of Jerusalem were politicians first and religious leaders second. When they asked Jesus by whose authority he cleared the temple of moneychangers and merchants, he responded with a question of his own: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” If they chose heaven, they would have to explain why they hadn’t believed him. If they chose human, the crowd would become angry. Their response did not hinge on what was true,  but on what was politic. We don’t even know what they believed, because they said: “We don’t know” – the “I do not recall” of its time. The political press conference hasn’t changed much since then.

Because their politics undermined their moral authority, Jesus did not feel compelled to answer their questions. Perhaps we should take a similar approach to modern day religious leaders who rely on popularity to maintain authority. Many a pastor – regardless of personal beliefs – has refused to challenge a congregation on issues of inclusiveness for fear people might object and leave. Such silence is almost always interpreted as consent for the status quo. Religious leaders – ordained or self-proclaimed – seeking political office must depend on popularity to succeed, and that often means sacrificing  integrity on the altar of electability.

Jesus did not compromise his mission, even as his followers turned on him. Paul may have adapted his style to suit an audience, but his message remained consistent. Neither dodged the difficult questions.  We are wise to reserve our respect for religious leaders who do not pander, but tell us what they believe. Even when we disagree, integrity is a foundation for building relationships.

Comfort: It’s all right to question religious leaders when you question their motives.

Challenge: God has given you the ability to think for yourself. Use it.

Prayer: God of wisdom, grant me ears to hear the words of the just and righteous. Help me turn away from voices that lack integrity. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever felt like you sold out your values?

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The Law, Weakened By The Flesh


Today’s readings (click below to open in new window/tab):
Psalms 84; 150, Genesis 44:1-17, Romans 8:1-10, John 5:25-29

Paul’s letter to the Romans builds a complex theological argument slowly and at length, so examining a small piece of it doesn’t give us a flavor of the whole text. That disclaimer aside, let’s consider the following (half) verse: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” Paul was talking about Christ fulfilling the law in a spiritual way that no mere human ever could. Notice Paul does not judge the law itself, which was given by God, but on how humans managed to corrupt it.

If human beings can corrupt God’s law, imagine what we’ve done with man-made ones.

How many laws and institutions have we elevated to nearly sacred status, only to abuse them from the inside out? Most major Christian denominations we know today exist because people insisted agreement on a specific human interpretation of God’s will was more important than learning to live as Christ’s one body. History has borne bloody witness to the corruption and danger of religions seeking to govern rather than serve.

For many Americans the ideas of democracy and capitalism have mingled with Christianity in an unhealthy way, much like divine right of kings and feudalism have been rationalized in the past. Faith has been used to justify democracy and tyranny, capitalism and socialism. God’s law – fulfilled in Christ – is beyond limited political and economic definitions.

We want Jesus to be on our “side” and can’t imagine that he’s not, but whenever we splice the flesh of  political and economic philosophies onto our faith, we weaken it. When we conflate human laws, constitutions, authorities, and systems with faith in Christ, we tend to mold our Christianity to fit our politics – liberal or conservative – when we should be doing just the opposite. Christian faith must stand outside any government or economy, because we are called to challenge them when they are unjust – and they are all eventually unjust.

All human laws and institutions will fade. The ones we support right now are no exception. If we are going to campaign for something, let it be God’s eternal Kingdom.

Comfort: Jesus has freed us from the obligations of perfection.

Challenge: Work hard to read the Gospel for what it is, not what you’d like it to be.

Prayer: God of justice, I dedicate myself to you before any human institution. Guide my thoughts and actions to serve you and not my own limited perspective. Thank your for the eternal gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What political, economic, legal, or other beliefs have you spliced onto your faith? In what ways does that keep you from being open to God’s larger law of love?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

For the record…

… Since the Lectionary is cyclical, the recent and upcoming Advent posts are polished up versions of ones written two years ago. It was a very different political atmosphere, so please don’t read too much about current events into their intent. But maybe don’t read too little into them either; the prophetic cry for justice is ongoing and timeless.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Hosea 9:10-17, Acts 24:24-25:12, Luke 8:1-15

After fleeing an angry Jerusalem mob who falsely accused him and conspired to kill him, Paul found himself in Caesarea. Felix, the governor, was familiar with The Way and sympathetic to Paul. When Paul’s accusers arrived, they argued their case that he had defiled the temple, but couldn’t make the charges stick in a Roman court. Rather than free Paul, Felix kept him in protective custody – for two years! He hoped to get money from Paul, and frequently invited him to visit and converse. Paul’s teachings about justice and self-control unnerved Felix. Eventually Felix’s successor arrived, but even then he left Paul in prison to appease the Jews. The new governor, Festus, didn’t wait long to hear Paul’s case, but he in turn decided to send Paul to Rome and the emperor for judgment.

Friends were allowed to visit and attend to Paul’s needs, but two years of confinement with no hearing was certainly unjust. Felix and Festus were true politicians who didn’t want any negative repercussions pinned to them. Freeing Paul would have angered the Jews, and convicting him would have been blatantly against the law, so instead he was left to languish.

The parallels to our modern political and justice systems are sadly obvious.

If we were Christians living in first-century Caesarea, would we have been fighting to free Paul as fiercely as his enemies fought against him? Acts doesn’t mention anyone advocating on his behalf. All around the world, people are unjustly imprisoned for political and religious reasons. A few dedicated souls toil to liberate them, but most of us shake our heads, perhaps pray a little, and don’t believe there’s much we can do.

But there is. Our faith communities can speak out against the conditions that allow such things to happen. We can organize or support non-partisan justice efforts. Our shared Christian history is one of both being unjustly persecuted, and of unjustly persecuting – and both still happen today. Our political role is not to side with one party or the other, but to be a prophetic voice against the injustices of the system itself.

Comfort: In matters of justice, even your small voice matters.

Challenge: Use it.

Prayer: God of justice, give me the courage to confront injustice where I see it, and the wisdom not to participate in it. Amen.

Discussion: If you had to pick one justice issue to receive your efforts, what would it be and why?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

God or Caesar?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Numbers 24:1-13, Romans 8:12-17, Matthew 22:15-22

Political parties thrive on an “Us vs. Them” mentality, so beware equating faith with politics. It’s difficult enough to find a congregation aligning with all our religious values, so how could any secular organization hope to do so? While we should stand on our principles, political affiliation – whether Left, Right, or Center – is not a litmus test for determining who is a “real” Christian.  When politics and faith become so entangled that the issues of a party – regardless of whether they have anything to do with the Gospel – acquire religious status and devotion, political affiliation becomes an idol.

The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking whether Jews should pay Roman taxes. He answered: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” His answer stymied them, in no small part because he didn’t actually answer the question! Some interpret this passage as implying we should honor state obligations as long as they don’t interfere with religious ones; if the emperor’s face is stamped on the coin of the realm, we can return it to him as required. Does this seem a little out of character for the Jesus who would flip the entire social order so the last will be first? Let’s not confuse a reconciling faith with one that merely appeases. Might this interpretation have Jesus giving too much regard to the state? Could we instead say Jesus teaches us the state is a reality we live with, but it does not impact our faith? Christians in capitalist democracies aren’t more or less Christian than those living happily under monarchies or socialism.

Since in truth everything belongs to God, nothing really belongs to the emperor (or any government). We live our faith regardless of the emperor or president. We can have an opinion on taxes – or any number of secular issues – but if we elevate them to religious status we fall into the Pharisees’ trap. Friends, family and associates may push us, even unwittingly, toward such traps. Instead let’s follow Jesus’ example, and not flip the coin of false choices.

Comfort: God’s nature is the same regardless of circumstance.

Challenge: Do some study of Christians in other countries.

Prayer: God of Hope, teach me to recognize what is important to you. Amen.

Discussion: if you have a political affiliation, has it ever come into conflict with your faith?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!