Put threats and loud voices in their rightful place

You can hate the sin but still love the sinner


 Two questions:

Whatever happened to the idea of hating an idea but not the person who has the idea?

When something “blows up” on social media, does it really mean anything, or even matter?

Recently, right here in North Dakota’s capitol city, the city attorney faced a barrage of hateful social media posts and even some threats of violence and harm.

Why?

She had volunteered to help inform local businesses and residents about the requirements of city- and state-imposed measures to combat the coronavirus. Apparently some of those who disagreed with her message felt compelled to threaten the messenger with physical harm.

These are not the actions of a civilized people.

Why did the city attorney volunteer to spread this message?

To take some of the heat off the local public health director, who previously had been subjected to threats of violence because she advocated for masking, hygiene and social distancing, methods once again proven effective in a new study by Mayo Clinic.

Certainly all Americans have the right to disagree, vociferously if they wish, with masking and other public health directives, though North Dakota’s precipitous decline in Covid cases in the weeks after the governor imposed more strict measures is strong evidence that those measures work.

But no Americans have the right to threaten bodily harm to someone whose thoughts or ideas they find disagreeable.

North Dakota is not alone.

Recently in Boise, Idaho, a public health meeting was canceled after law enforcement officials learned of threats from protesters who gathered outside the personal homes of public health officials and at the public health center.

In Michigan, the secretary of state and her 4-year-old daughter feared for their lives after protesters, some with weapons, gathered outside their home to object to the results of the presidential election.

Threats, regardless of the likelihood that they will be carried out, impact peoples’ lives.

Imagine, for a moment, the stress you’d feel if someone left a phone message disagreeing with an idea and telling you to prepare for a bullet in your back. Imagine the sleepless nights you’d experience if someone left a social media message suggesting that because of your opinion, tomorrow may be your last day on earth.

Bullying, universally decried in our schools, has crept in to our public discourse in a way that our freedom-loving founders would have found constitutionally objectionable.

In Bismarck and elsewhere, threats came via social media posts, which were widely reported as evidence that the point of view being expressed was widespread. Dozens of posters used emotion-filled messages to encourage like-minded citizens to pack the meeting room and adjacent hallways during an upcoming city commission meeting.

At the meeting, the mayor scolded the social media maniacs, saying that threats against public officials were never appropriate and would never be tolerated.

But only one citizen showed up to “pack” the meeting room.

That’s clear evidence that a lot of noise on social media often matters little and rarely indicates that a viewpoint that blows up is anywhere close to pervasive.

The same can be said for online polls and telephone messages. Last week, for example, the North Dakota attorney general reported that “thousands” of citizens called to support a Texas lawsuit aimed at overturning the results of the presidential election in four other states. As a result, North Dakota joined the suit.

Two days later the U.S. Supreme court predictably and summarily dismissed the case with a three-sentence order.

Loud voices, on the phone or on social media, represent little more than a bandwagon to jump on and do not in any way suggest that an idea is right, good or has consensus.

And so we have the answers to the two questions.

1) This hyperpartisan atmosphere in which we live would be much more palatable if we would all take some time to understand and live by the concept of hating the sin and loving the sinner.

2) For all the loud voices blowing up social media there are hundreds of others whose views are just as important but are not shouted from their keyboards.

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