Loving Through Listening
Let me tell you a true story. Two thousand years ago, Paul and his cohorts arrived in Ephesus and the power of the Spirit worked through Paul and his friends causing many to turn to the Way in that bustling metropolis. But all of the good citizens of Ephesus were not "locked-arms" and singing “Amazing Grace.”
Some were quite perturbed by the religious shake-up taking place. Particularly Demetrius, a silver smith who pocketed quite a bit of loot by selling idols of Artemis, the goddess of fertility. You see, Ephesus boasted a monumental temple to the goddess and hosted several festivals annually that would draw tourists and locals alike and all would purchase his fancy little idols… But not if this guy Paul convinces everyone that there is one true God, one savior, his son, Jesus. In this economy, idols cast of precious metals are valueless. Demetrius being a forward-thinking businessman decides to gather all the other smiths with a stake in this business. They grab their friends and next thing you know a mob has formed!
Demetrius then stirs the crowd up using fear-inciting words… you know the kind. It was a classic “We will lose everything, our livelihoods and even our reputation! We have to do something, now!” sort of speech that gets people really excited and even enraged. And it worked. A chant begins, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” and opponents of the crowd are seized and drug into a theater to make a public spectacle of them. Fearful, angry and even confused (some didn’t even know why they were there?!), the mob chants and screams until one person of the opposition is put forward. Alexander is volunteered to speak on behalf of the opponents. He motions with his hand to make a defense but the crowd notices something… he’s Jewish… likely aware of Paul’s ethnicity and the bond the two share, they cancel him, and shout their chant even louder for nearly two hours, completely unable to listen to him, because he is on the “other side.” Eventually, the town clerk convinces the mob that a new fear is greater… they may be charged with rioting, and the crowd finally disbands.
Great story, huh? What can we learn? First, it must be said that Demetrius was seriously accurate in his assessment that Christianity could blow up his idol business. His speech is laden with propositions that were mostly true… Paul did want to depose Artemis from her magnificence and prove Jesus to be the one object of our worship and affection. In gathering the other craftsmen, Demetrius may have been truly looking to preserve his livelihood by forming a movement to maintain the current religious climate of Ephesus. But this movement becomes a mob when the followers are no longer simply passionate about their own agenda but equally dispassionate for the agenda of the other side. If anything, this crowd is portrayed as erratic and irrational and the insanity of the group comes to its peak when they are completely unable to listen to their opponent whom they seized and drug into the theater. They treat Alexander and his friends as less than human. In their mind, there isn’t a chance that Alexander has anything to add to this conversation. The thought of listening to their opponent for understanding, not necessarily for agreement, is incomprehensible to this mob.
We know from Genesis 1 that mankind… all humans… literally every human being is made in the image of God. This means that every person on the opposite side of whatever debate you may be engaging bears unbelievable dignity.
By definition a mob is a disorderly crowd of people. I will argue that anytime a group of people are completely unwilling to listen to those that disagree with them, they are acting disorderly and therefore by definition, they are a mob. You may be thinking that I’m being a little dramatic… is a failure to listen truly mob-like? We know from Genesis 1 that mankind… all humans… literally every human being is made in the image of God. This means that every person on the opposite side of whatever debate you may be engaging bears unbelievable dignity. They display truth about our Creator and have much within them that is affirmable and good. Though sin distorts every individual’s ability to bear that image perfectly, we all still possess the goodness of God within us, and owe one another respect and dignity.
When the Ephesians chanted over Alexander for two hours, they robbed him of the dignity of a voice. They told him with their actions that his words were valueless and therefore he was valueless in their minds. Sure, they disagreed with him, but this mob went too far. They inhumanely denied the reality that he bore God’s image and deserved respect. When a group completely fails to listen to other image bearers and denies them the dignity that should accompany bearing that image, they are out of order, God’s order, and that makes them a mob.
The other night, during the presidential debate, I watched two men personify the mob mentality that our country’s political environment has become… very little respect and an utter unwillingness to listen. Sadly, these men are not the problem. The problem is sin. The problem is we sinful humans look at all the hurts in this world and in our country and we honestly believe the solution lies within a political party. Then, perhaps in an attempt to simplify a wildly complex and broken world, we discredit and even demonize the other party and demand that our representatives do the same. Listening screeches to a halt and we gather in our collective parties and chant “Great are the Republicans/Democrats” and give no opportunity for the other party to have a voice. In our inability to listen, we behave like the Ephesians that day. I must admit there are times I fear it will only get worse. I pray for change but I find it extremely difficult to see how it will. And just when I begin to despair, I remember one who endured an angry mob, a mob who irrationally demanded his execution. One who suffered the complete denial of his image bearing though unlike us, he bore God’s image perfectly. One who died and rose to redeem all that is broken, even a political system as broken as ours. And One who calls his followers to be agents of redemption in this world that is busted and marred by sin.
It’s not necessary to switch political parties. But could we commit to honestly listen to the image bearers on the other side of whichever party we support?
This means that if we claim Christ, we don’t get to simply point to the brokenness… we have to be a part of fixing it! So my call to the Church, is to begin the process of repairing our divided and angry political environment by loving our opponents through listening to them. It’s not necessary to switch political parties. But could we commit to honestly listen to the image bearers on the other side of whichever party we support? Could we truly offer them the dignity they deserve? Could we love and respect them enough to hear them out?
What would it practically look like to truly listen to your political opponents? Here are a few suggestions: Have at least one friend who votes differently than you do in this coming election and know why they voted the way they did. Listen to one news report weekly from a news agency that does not shamelessly tow your party’s line (let’s don’t pretend our news stations are unbiased… we know better). Strive to find a few things about the other party and their representatives that are affirmable even if those affirmable traits are not enough to sway your vote.
Let’s find the dignity in one another and treat those with whom we disagree politically with respect. Let’s put an end to the mob mentality that denies the image bearing of our political opponents. Let’s act as if there are things that are deeper and truer about a person than the political party they embrace.
As followers of Christ, let’s lead the way in loving our neighbors during this highly charged and often divisive political season by listening.