What’s the point of being winsome if people still hate, ridicule, and condemn us for our convictions, and even call us bigots?
Early this month, Saturday Night Live hit a new low in our country’s already abysmal political discourse. Just after the midterm elections, SNL comedian Pete Davidson made the awful decision to mock some of the winners over their appearance. Among his targets was former Navy SEAL and newly-elected Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye to an IED in Afghanistan. Davidson cracked an obscene joke about Crenshaw’s eye patch and flippantly described the explosion that caused his injury as “war…or whatever.”
This was a week before Veteran’s Day.
If anyone in our outrage climate has a right to be outraged, it’s Lieutenant Commander Crenshaw. Instead, he chose a different reaction.
In the Washington Post, Crenshaw explained why he didn’t demand an apology from SNL or call for Davidson to be fired. Reacting with outrage, he writes, only perpetuates “outrage culture”—the effort to destroy people’s lives over bad jokes, gaffes, and political disagreements. Crenshaw thinks average Americans find this whole charade exhausting, and I think he’s right.
His winsome response paid off. SNL realized they crossed a line, invited Crenshaw on the show, and Davidson apologized to him on-air. He then let Crenshaw get in a few jokes of his own. The two also found common ground. It turns out Davidson’s father was an emergency responder who died on 9/11.
Crenshaw closed by remarking that “Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.”
Crenshaw did the right thing, and this time it turned out well. But, of course, being winsome doesn’t always get you off the hook of being called a bigot or a hater in today’s political climate.
Consider Isabella Chow, a student senator at the University of California, Berkeley. She was recently kicked out of her own party, and now faces pressure to resign over an abstention vote. The daughter of Malaysian-Cambodian immigrants and a devoted Christian, Chow refused to support a symbolic student senate bill rejecting the, at the time, not-yet-existent executive order on transgender rights. She was the only senator to do so.
She’s been labeled “homophobic” and “transphobic.” She’s faced protests filled with angry classmates calling for her to be recalled. One UC Berkeley student newspaper that fiercely attacked her won’t even print her defense.
Chow told Fox News, “If I don’t represent the Christian perspective—the minority perspective—there won’t be anyone to represent these views.” And throughout the ordeal, she’s repeatedly emphasized her love and respect for those who identify as LGBT.
Chow is obviously a gentle spirit by nature. Rod Dreher said that he didn’t think anyone could have handled the situation more carefully than she has. And yet the backlash and intolerance could derail her academic career. Standing up for her beliefs and speaking the truth with grace has only led to her being punished, misrepresented, and attacked.
This illustrates, as I’ve said before on BreakPoint, that winsomeness is not a strategy. We don’t love our enemies, or pray for them, or turn the other cheek, or season our speech with salt because they “work.” We do these things because they’re right. Jesus both commanded and modeled that we treat people this way.
Sometimes, as Proverbs says, a soft answer turns away wrath. Other times, our political and ideological opponents vent wrath no matter what. It is precisely then—when winsomeness does not win us any earthly points, when our ideological enemies don’t deserve it—that our allegiance to a different kingdom and a different way of doing things is proven.
Be winsome. Don’t stoke the outrage. Show the kind of grace under fire Crenshaw and Chow have. But remember, Jesus predicted how we’d be treated, and still said, “Blessed are you” when it happens.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2018 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.