God’s job is to hold “the whole world in his hands.” Our job is to love our neighbors.
Too many Christians have got it backward. We’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, while ignoring the neighbor who’s right in front of us.
Like most Americans, Christians spend a lot of their spare time absorbed in screens — about nine hours a day, according to a pre-pandemic study from Nielsen Media Research. Evangelicals spend many of those hours watching cable news or “doom scrolling” the Internet and social media.
The human brain is attuned to respond to threats. We notice the wolf – not the forest. News organizations know this. Ever since CNN launched the 24-hour news cycle in 1980, our screens have presented us with a nonstop parade of wolves – dishonest businessmen, corrupt politicians, unfaithful spouses, and disgraced clerics slowly eroded trust in our leaders and institutions. Crime waves, drug epidemics, gang violence, environmental catastrophes—the only escape was to change the channel.
But there is only so much bad news to go around. Broadcasters have hours of time to fill — while the internet has unlimited capacity. So, these outlets turned to political conflict to generate the fear and outrage that captures their audiences’ attention.
Here’s how the game is played: right-leaning media tries to convince its viewers the US is careening toward godless Communism, while left-leaning outlets present America as a shameful hellhole of oppression and hatred.
Christians watch this exaggerated reality on their screens, hour after hour. Over time we take on God’s role, managing world affairs in our minds. Political conflict occupies our thoughts. Distrust of others grips our hearts. Meanwhile our assignment from Jesus (love thy neighbor) goes undone.
During last summer’s riots my screens presented me with images of businesses looted and burning. I found myself watching hour after hour of the chaos and mayhem engulfing Minneapolis, Portland and several other cities.
Then I stepped outside. My city was not on fire, and I gave thanks for it. There were protests in downtown Anchorage, but they had been completely peaceful. Later that day I ran some errands and saw people going about their business. Folks of various races were not oppressing one another – instead, they were interacting with respect.
It was a completely different reality than the one I’d been watching on my screens. Ninety-nine percent of America was functioning normally (as normally as it can during COVID), but my screens made it seem like the entire nation was on the brink of anarchy.
Hebrews 12:2 commands us to “fix our eyes upon Jesus.” Yet many conservative Christians spend up to nine hours a day with eyes fixed on Fox News or Breitbart or social media. Meanwhile, our neighbors are suffering. The woman down the street can’t pay her bills. The couple around the corner is on the brink of divorce. Kids need to hear the good news that Jesus loves them. Do we help them? No – we don’t even see them, because we’re too busy staring at our screens.
Let me be clear: I am not saying we should ignore current events or eschew political involvement.
Here’s my point: our screen-based obsession with political events is distracting us from the simple, straightforward work Christ told us to do. Instead taking an hour or two to love the people around us, we spend many hours each week slamming the liberals (or conservatives) who got us into this mess. We take to our keyboards to “stand up for the truth,” telling everyone what God thinks. We truly are the Pharisees of our day — proclaiming the Bible, but devoid of love.
A few years ago, Chick-Fil-A was accused of being anti-gay over the political leanings of its CEO Dan Cathey. Mr. Cathey didn’t take to social media to quote the Bible, play the victim or defend his positions. Instead, he made friends with a leader in the LGBT movement. They talked. They attended a football game together. They ate chicken sandwiches.
Dan Cathey loved his neighbor. And his on-screen enemy became a real life ally. The men remain friends to this day.
On judgment day Christ will not ask us what we posted – he’ll ask us who we loved.
In 2021, let’s stop doing God’s job and start doing ours. It’s time to tweet less and love more. If you’re a screen news junkie, limit yourself to a half an hour a day. Then spend the time you save loving those around you – your family, friends and neighbors.
David Murrow is the author of Drowning in Screen Time (Salem Books, 2020)