For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. –Ephesians 6:12
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
There are two great temptations for citizens during a heated election season. We can be so distracted by gamesmanship and political jockeying that we lose sight of the basic choices we have to make and the moral weight of these choices. Or we can be deceived into believing that the struggle between good and evil is embodied in the struggle between political parties, that virtue and justice are all on one side. Both temptations blind us to the difficult and complex moral choices which actually confront us, and to our own complicity with the evil we wish to defeat.
Often the opposing factions are pursuing different but real goods. There is, for instance, the wish to protect liberty and the wish to protect life. Both of these are civic and also Christian virtues. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out which one to put first. This precarious balance comes up in the debates over abortion, gun control, antiterrorism laws, environmental regulations and many other issues. Perhaps if we stepped out of our political polarization and acknowledged the good being sought by those who could disagree with us we could find a constructive way forward toward the place where ‘righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10)
Both factions, also, are prone to vanity, corruption, fear, and other sins which make it harder for us to work meaningfully toward any good. Both sides are eager to point out their opponents’ faults, reluctant to acknowledge their own. Perhaps if we could start by removing the planks from our own eyes—individually laying down vanity and fear, and acknowledging and seeking to remedy the ways in which these sins affect our chosen allies—we would be more able to remove the specks from the eyes of our opponents, who are also our fellow sinners and our fellow seekers after God’s Kingdom.