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Doomed Divisiveness
Photo: Michele Lukowski
There’s a hard reality I’ve had to face about the temptation to stir up strife or criticize others. Simply put, it doesn’t work! Period. If I want to change people by yelling at them, I get the opposite effect when they stubbornly dig in their heels.

For three decades now, every American political scandal, it seems, has had the suffix “gate” attached to it. Recent late-night comics have tried to get mileage out of something called “Dick-Cheney-shooting-a-guy-in-the-face-gate,” which doesn’t really roll off the tongue. But there’s nothing like the original, Watergate.

Historian Richard Reeves, in his biography, "Richard Nixon: Alone in the White House," describes an alumni reunion of former Watergaters in May of 2000. America’s 38th President had passed away, of course. But many of his staffers were still in a daze 26 years later. What had happened? How had their team gone from an 18-million vote victory, a 520-17 Electoral College wipeout, a 49-states-to-1 steamrollering of hapless George McGovern . . . to the only Presidential resignation in history less than two years later?

Reeves shares many hidden anecdotes about Nixon’s tender side, his political genius, his sometimes shy Quaker warmth. But the tragic, overriding reality is that Watergate was a story of chronic bitterness, infighting, quarreling, and dissension. “Nixon glorified in cultural warfare,” he writes, dividing the nation geographically, generationally, racially, religiously. He believed that was what all politicians did.” His young speechwriter, Patrick Buchanan, devised a cynical White House strategy on race relations and bussing that elicited a warning from a fellow worker: “That’s gonna split the nation right in half.” Buchanan gave him a tight, confident smile: “If we cut the country in half, I guarantee you our side’ll get the bigger half.” And Reeves concludes: “Nixon’s ‘silent majority,’ a resentful populist center of working and middle-class Christians, loved him not for himself but for his enemies.”

The Politics of Destruction

Ouch. It’s sad that the last line of this postmortem mentions Christians as being a key part of this angry, restless, ready-to-hate constituency. Even today, many people in the secular world look into church parking lots, and read how Christians are always marching, always suing each other, always engaging in the politics of personal destruction. Does that kind of ongoing civil war get those onlookers to come in and visit? Not too much.

Again, division and criticism – and we should know it going in – are failed ideas! In Dale Carnegie’s classic bestseller, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," he puts it starkly: “Criticism is futile.” And why? “Criticism puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.” 

The apostle Paul writes to the bickering Christians in Colosse with this gentle encouragement. "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Colossians 3:12).

Now that’s a way to win reelection.

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By David Smith. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

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