Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

October 18, 2020


Changing the culture of cruelty in America


            Life in America today presents us with this disturbing irony: how kind we can be as individuals and how cruel we can be en masse. Individually we may practice kindness, but collectively, we encourage unkindness when we condone it with our silence.

            My friend Bill Brown brought this paradox to my attention in a kind response to my recent article on encouraging kindness. A retired journalist and distinguished newspaper editor, Bill deplores with me the proliferating incivility of our day.

            Sadly, we must acknowledge that the art of cruelty (the opposite of kindness) is being practiced before us daily by most of the candidates for public office, including the president. Even sadder is the reality that many of us are encouraging this incivility, some by our cheers and some by our silence. “We the people” could diminish this culture of cruelty by insisting that our leaders stop publicly demeaning one another.

            Bill wonders, as I do, why so many people are encouraging unkindness, unwittingly of course, by condoning it with their silence. Bill raises a good question: “Is it the cloak of anonymity that allows us to act out our basest impulses?”

            While we are all tempted to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, the question raises a deeper issue, that of our relationship to God. Our base, or vile, impulses spring from our “lower nature” and the Bible has a lot to say about that.

Consider, for example, what Paul says in Romans 8: “If men comply with their lower nature, their thoughts are shaped by the lower nature; if with their spiritual nature, by the spiritual. Thoughts shaped by the lower nature mean death; thoughts shaped by the spiritual mean life and peace. For thoughts shaped by the lower nature mean a state of enmity to God” (Weymouth).

            Think of it as a matter of life or death. Cruelty, a thought aroused by the lower nature, leads to death. Kindness, a thought inspired by the spiritual nature, leads to life and peace. The ultimate question is whether we desire or disdain the will of God.

The will of God for Jesus was the “food” which sustained him. Jesus said to his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” If the will of God was food for Jesus, then it is life-giving food for us as well. As E. Stanley Jones says, “We are made for the will of God as the body is made for food. Everything else is poison!”

            The culture of cruelty in America is poisoning our society. It can destroy us because it makes us enemies with God, the Source of the life and peace we all seek. If we refuse to drink this poison and instead feed on the will of God, this food will provide all the sustenance we need for a life shaped by our higher nature. We are made to live by this higher nature, not our lower.  

            As a Methodist I have been reminded often of the sound advice John Wesley offered the early Methodists about voting. He urged people to do three things: 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; and 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side. Excellent advice 250 years ago and still excellent for today.

            Image the impact we could have on our culture of cruelty if thousands of us followed Wesley’s advice today, and did so because we believed it to be the will of God. We would not eliminate unkindness in the public arena but we could surely weaken its insidious effect on the unity of our nation.

The Psalmist said what I need to remember to say every morning: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:8). If I greet every sunrise with that desire in my heart, I will always choose kindness over cruelty, bitterness and vulgarity.

It helps me, and should help us all, to remember how Jesus explained who will enter the kingdom of heaven. He said it will be “those who do the will of my heavenly Father.”

            Let us then choose kindness instead of cruelty because it is the will of God. To do anything else is to swallow poison. We are truly alive when we live by the will of God. We wither and die when we spurn the will of God.

            In a letter written from a prison two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul admonished his friends in Philippi to practice kindness for the ultimate reason: because God had forgiven their sins. Paul’s inspiring words invited them, and invite us, to embrace kindness as the way God wants us to live:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

            May God bless America with people who choose to live like that! + + +