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Time to Call Out Strident Rhetoric of Extremists

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Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz., has prompted sober reflection. Much of the response has centered around the partisan rhetoric that marks our political stage.

The question is: Does that rhetoric invite this particular incident and others like it? I think the answer is yes.

It can be argued that partisan palavering has been with us since the inception of our democratic state. That is true. Study the political life of people like Andrew Jackson or consider the epithets thrown at Abraham Lincoln during his presidency.

Freedom of speech has always given rise to extremists who abuse that freedom, and when rhetoric turns violent, we need to do something about it. Unfortunately, in this case, it is too late.

Partisanship seems to be more strident than ever before. Perhaps that is largely due to a world of instant communication. If someone mouths off about someone or something, it’s heard almost instantaneously by those already inclined not only to believe it but also to act on it.

When Andrew Jackson felt his wife had been slandered, a personal and very private duel was the answer; few people even heard about it. Today, we use AK-47s instead of flintlock, and their use is analyzed ad nauseum by news outlets.

It’s time to tone down the rhetoric. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on CBS’ Face the Nation, “My colleagues are very concerned about the environment in which they are operating.” He said the political climate in recent years has become “angrier, confrontational” and cautions that “what we say can in fact have consequences.” A newspaper headline recently referred to it as “Capitol” rhetoric, and while that is true, it is only partially correct.

I pastor a local congregation, and some may argue it’s not my place even to broach this subject. But I have a voice, if not something of a bully pulpit, and I plan to use it. So this is what I have to say, at the risk of having it sound a bit too confrontational as well.

I am calling out the Rush Limbaughs, Keith Olbermanns and Glenn Becks of the world – as well as their minions who don’t have the ability to understand their pontificating for what it really is. Put the welfare of our nation and world above your personal desire to make the almighty buck because we all know your strident opinions are motivated less by your desire to correct what is wrong than it is to make yourself famous and wealthy – and feed your huge egos.

Let’s find a way to look beyond our disagreements and work together, knowing that while we may consider issues from different perspectives, the world in which we live and move and have our being is not as black and white as you make it out to be. There is room for us to work together, and it begins with a commitment to treat one another with respect.

Will it solve all our problems? Of course not. But it will be the beginning of something refreshingly new, something our world desperately needs at this moment.

Randy Hyde is senior pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.