The number of people in the United States who claim and take pride in their extreme partisanship is small. Among these, I count the rally-attending MAGA faithful, with their flags, caps and cultish deference to Donald Trump.
There are certainly folks in other corners of our political neighborhood who only consider one way of seeing the world and carry that myopia as a badge of honor. They are smaller in number and less intense in devotion, but they are there.
But most of us want to be seen as the “reasonable ones.” Sure, we have our preferences and leanings, but we like to believe, or at least communicate, that we look at all sides of an issue before taking a stance.
We also don’t want to be lumped together in the same category with those who believe the same things we do but who are more undignified in how they express that belief.
The political talking heads on cable news panels use a baseball metaphor to describe how most of us like to see ourselves: We just call “balls and strikes.”
Most of us want to believe we aren’t on a team when it comes to politics and social issues. We are the umpire. A slight variation occurs in religious discourse when we claim to be on the umpire’s team.
I believe this is being played out in the sharp rise of people identifying politically as “Independent.”
But if we are the umpire, we aren’t very good at our jobs and should expect a few boos from the stands. Many of us are selective in the pitches or plays we call, shifting responsibility to other officials when we don’t want to take the heat.
I’m thinking of evangelical leaders who teach that political involvement is of utmost importance when it comes to ” life issues.” Yet they remain hesitant or silent when the rhetoric of their preferred political candidate leads to upticks in violence among marginalized people.
And then there are the political “Independents” who can’t recall a time since before 1980 when they voted for a candidate of a different political party.
When a political “Independent” says, “All politicians are criminals,” ask them to name the specific crimes the politicians they vote for have committed. This will help determine how good they are at calling balls and strikes.
Beyond partisan politics, this plays out in how we talk about domestic and international conflict, especially in the words we demand others use before engaging in dialogue.
In 2020, before having a conversation about the tens of trillions of dollars generated by an economy built on the 400-year foundation of chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation, we were required to condemn the billions of dollars in damages during the two weeks of Black Lives Matter protests.
Yet once we acknowledged and condemned the property damage, the umpires would clock out for the day before continuing the conversation.
The same thing is happening in dialogue about the current Israel-Hamas war. The umpires require us to begin any conversation about that conflict with the evils committed by Hamas on October 7, 2024.
Thankfully, we have the instant replay of history. This tool shows the acts committed by Hamas last fall and demands we call it what it is—evil. It shows us all instances of violence committed by Palestinians.
But it also shows the decades of Israel stripping away the rights of self-determination of those in Gaza and the West Bank. We see the tanks razing Palestinian communities in the West Bank to build Israeli settlements, both in times of conflict and relative peace.
In Jerusalem in 2022, I observed the beginning of the annual “Flag March.” The event celebrates what Israelis refer to as the “reunification of Jerusalem,” but the rest of the world sees it as the “annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Israeli youth fly the nation’s flag through the streets of Jerusalem, including the Muslim Quarter. They chant and sing taunting songs that include phrases such as “death to Arabs” and “may your villages burn.”
Yet, when violence occurs during these marches, the officials require us to condemn the retaliation but never the provocation.
I am not suggesting we become better umpires. Objectively looking at an issue is something to aspire to, but there is nothing inherently virtuous about being a detached observer.
As people of faith, and especially those who follow Jesus, we are called to take sides. We are on the team of the widows, those who are hungry, the marginalized and the oppressed.
We can and should call foul when any team, including our own, fails to advance the cause of those Jesus called us to most identify with. But we must never forget whose side we are called to be on.
Senior editor at Good Faith Media.