The Civil War in Our Hearts

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Political division finds fuel in sin that separates us from each other. Only peacemakers win the title “children of God.”

A reader recently replied to an article I’d written about the presidential election to say his reason for voting for his preferred candidate has nothing to do with the policy considerations my piece addressed. “Nah,” he wrote, he’ll stick with his pick to “cause irritation and anger” for voters on the other side. The antagonism is the point.

I don’t think this reader was unique in that regard. Tribal political antagonism is on a long upward trend, giving this election season’s cyclical worries about a new civil war a less fantastical feel than in elections past. Is that possible? Are we really heading toward large-scale political violence over our election results? I’m skeptical—but even if no one ever takes up arms, we already have a civil war in our hearts.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment,’” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matt. 5:21–22). The consequences of murder and malice are different, of course: Only one leaves a corpse. But both warp our souls and our relationships. The rejection of love that motivates us to murder someone, Jesus said, is just as real and grave a sin when it leads us to despise her.

By that standard, America has been at civil war for some time. Negative partisanship is on a decades-long rise, which means that many of us vote …

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