On some issues, there are only two choices. We are either male or female and the whole “non-binary” gender movement may be the most ridiculous thing in history. I had four children and back then the gender-reveal party was simple. My wife gave birth. I looked at the new baby and revealed to my wife what we had. I was never confused. Gender dysphoria is a real thing, but God made us male and female.
My dad used to say there are two kinds of people – the saints and the aints. People often try to add categories of Christians, but there are the redeemed and the lost and there are no in-betweeners nor does Scripture have gradations of the saved. Obviously, some people live out their faith more fully than others do, but there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
It is certainly appropriate at times to draw the line and say that a choice must be made. Light and darkness cannot coexist. A Yankees fan cannot support the Red Sox, or the Rays, or the Jays. One cannot claim righteousness and still cheer for Tom Brady. You cannot stand for both goodness AND the Alabama Crimson Crud. Sometimes choices have to be made. More seriously, there is only one name under heaven by which we must be saved. It is Jesus or the second death. The Bible cannot be mostly inerrant – it is or it isn’t. Sometimes a simple choice must be made between options and there is no in-between, no middle ground.
Many times there is a huge, gaping middle ground and our choices are not binary. Positions exist on a continuum and Christian people can have a wide range of views. A tendency exists, which I am calling the “Binary Polarization Syndrome,” to drive people to the extremes, to force them to choose one or the other option at the extreme of the continuum. BPS has been a common malady on social media for years.
A notable example is political binary polarization. In the last two elections, I have been hammered with the notion that only two candidates existed, yet when I stepped into the ballot booth, there were about half a dozen named on my ballot. I had far more choices than people said I did. I actually chose a man who wasn’t on my ballot, an evangelical Christian running on a party ticket that generally reflects my values. He did not win. While it might have been true that only two candidates had a chance to win, it was simply a falsehood that there were only two choices. I had MANY options in the 2016 election and the 2020 election and I made choices according to my conscience. BPS was at play every time someone told me I had to choose one or the other of choices I found unacceptable.
I lost a good friend a few months ago because I stated here, in a comment, that I thought that Donald Trump’s words contributed to the insurrection on January 6. I honestly do not see how someone can listen to what he said and not see that his intemperate words fanned the emotional flames that day and contributed to the trouble. I did not say he planned or caused the insurrection, but he contributed. My former friend called me an abortion supporter and said he could no longer support my ministry in any way. If I did not support Donald Trump 100%, I was supporting Joe Biden and the death-loving Democrats 100%. For him, there were only two options. Either you gave blind, uncritical support to Trump or you supported the killing of babies. BPS.
Let’s think about Donald Trump a little more (something I am loathe to do, but it is hard to avoid). I did not vote for him and was roundly accused (and accursed) over the last 5 years of being a Democrat, a liberal, a supporter of Hillary or of Biden, and all sorts of such insults. If I did not go to one extreme, I must be on the other. I have friends who supported Donald Trump, in spite of deep reservations about his character and deportment. They endured judgment from those who assumed that because they voted for Trump, they must be White Supremacists, Nationalists, racists, misogynists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and such, as some among Trump’s supporters were. When Trump is involved, Binary Polarization Syndrome becomes Binary Derangement Syndrome on both sides.
For years, anti-Calvinists warned us about the evils of Calvinism. I fall squarely in the middle on this, using a term David Rogers and I tried to advance years ago, “Antinomism.” I have been told by those on both sides that the middle ground is no ground. You have to choose one extreme or the other – it’s us or them. That’s BPS.
My thinking on this topic was started a few weeks ago when I read a tweet by Mike Leake. The Israel/Palestine conflict flashed again and many Christians were announcing their support for Israel. Mike pointed out that loving and supporting Israel doesn’t necessarily mean having to approve of everything they do. We know this biblically because God loved Israel (still does) and sent prophet after prophet to confront them with their sin. If God didn’t think that loving Israel meant that we had to support EVERY SINGLE THING they do, then perhaps we can love and support Israel while still wondering about some of their actions. We do not have to be either/or, right?
I have been watching a lot of First Amendment Auditing videos recently and find them entertaining. Some of these guys are nuts – vulgar, confrontational, and perhaps a little unhinged. I am not in the “defund the police” camp, but when you watch the videos, it is clear that police deceive, abuse their power, and bully citizens on a regular basis. I can believe that we should support the boys in blue while also believing that the “thin blue line” is a danger to American democracy. Bad cops should be held accountable, good cops should be supported.
Black Lives Matter is another example of Binary Polarization. There is a political organization known as Black Lives Matter and from what I have gleaned from reading about it, they are Marxist and I oppose pretty much everything they stand for. There is also a loose organization of people who are protesting in support of the CONCEPT that Black Lives Matter. Why? Because in American history black lives have been devalued in heinous ways. Taking a stand (or a knee) to say that the lives of Black people matter is not the same as saying “I support the BLM organization.” But the Binary Polarization Syndrome folks allow no such nuance.
I love America. I am a loyal, patriotic citizen of this great country, but anyone who denies our nation has a shameful history of the treatment of non-white peoples (slavery, treatment of Native Americans, internment camps – the list is long) is denying reality. If those things were 75 years in the past maybe we could say “move on” but the evidence exists that we have not solved all of our issues in how law enforcement and the justice system treat minorities.
I could mention CRT, but then there’d just be another Resolution 9 food fight, and who wants that, right?
Why Do We Do This?
I have some ideas.
1. There is a black and white strain in SBC life that tends to see middle ground as compromise or lack of conviction.
Today’s SBC grew out of the CR where the enemy was the “moderate” and we have a tendency to see someone who takes a middle view as wishy-washy or lacking in theological precision. We see those who take the hard-nosed positions on the ends of the spectrums as the stronger, more convictional folks.
2. It is easier to defeat the foe if you can paint him in bold colors.
It is much easier to simply call Russell Moore a liberal or a democrat than to deal with the intelligent and powerful arguments he makes. It is intellectually lazy and unChristlike to misrepresent and caricature our opponents, but it makes it easier to score points. Certain networks and groups have hammered on the threat of liberalism in the SBC, but have not been specific because they would prefer to win power and control in the SBC with false accusations than do battle on the basis of the truth.
3. We tend to jump into arguments before we research the facts.
I remember watching a discussion of a complex court case. The jury had spent days listening to testimony and rendered a verdict and people then watched a few news reports (and perhaps stayed at a Holiday Inn Express) and were CERTAIN that they knew exactly what true justice would have been. On a post here a couple of days ago a man was telling me about the inner dealings of the SBC – how everything was fixed by the “elites.” He was absolutely certain he knew everything about the behind-the-scenes goings-on of our convention. I have had enough of a peek behind the curtain to know that a lot of stuff goes on that is concerning but also that this guy did not know what he was talking about.
People will read a few website articles and go to the doctor to correct their knowledge. We have become ultracrepidarian. It is easier to start arguing before we have all the facts.
4. Ultimately, I think division comes more naturally to us than unity.
It is natural for us to paint our group as the inner circle of holiness and “them” as the bad guys. We do it in sports, in politics, in every area of life. This tendency, to create binary choices – if you are not for me you are against me – comes from our fleshly impulses. The word of God tells us to “make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That is a work of God’s Spirit in us that goes against our nature. The flesh screams to paint that person I disagree with in the worst possible light while the Spirit says I should show love and patience. The flesh calls for harshness while the Spirit is gentle with brothers and sisters in Christ.
The more we walk in the flesh, the more prevalent the Binary Polarization Syndrome will be. The more we walk in the Spirit, the more the love, joy, peace, and the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit will help us to overcome our fleshly desires to pull apart.