Published August 18, 2022
We now know that on the morning of Aug. 8, a team of FBI agents entered Donald Trump’s sprawling Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, looking for caches of documents. As rumors swirled and what looked at first like sensationalist “fake news” was confirmed, the internet exploded with speculations, denunciations, and hot takes of every description about the unprecedented raid on a former president’s residence.
Depending on whom you asked (or more often, didn’t ask, but heard from all the same), the raid was the prequel to a bombshell revelation of the depths of Trump’s criminal depravity, a frightening display of political persecution by a left-wing administration seeking to maintain power by any means, or a monumental display of incompetence and miscalculation by an increasingly flailing FBI. What did each of these hot takes have in common? An almost complete lack of access to the relevant information.
It is, after all, in the nature of ongoing federal investigations to be highly secretive, and in such a charged political environment, one hardly knew whether the information that did leak out could be trusted. In the first few days immediately after the raid, the American people didn’t know what the agents came to Mar-a-Lago looking for or what they found, who authorized the raid or how long they had planned it, whether it was an act of last resort or of hasty action.
Even when the warrant was unsealed and we were told that several boxes of top-secret documents had been taken from Mar-a-Lago, contradictory narratives swirled. They still swirl. Most of us were none the wiser about what was going on. But strangely, this did not stop most of us from having strongly held opinions—or even firm convictions—about the meaning of the raid.
Why are we so quick to leap to judgment? On one level, the answer is obvious. When the stakes are so high, we are apt to feel that having no firm opinion is not an option, that staying quiet will look like apathy (or worse). While this instinct is understandable, it is deeply flawed.
One can care passionately about a situation and yet be thoroughly flummoxed as to what to make of it, as any parent knows who’s been confronted by wailing children offering contradictory tales about who punched whom. Sometimes, of course, one must get to the bottom of it, or make a decision even without being sure if it is right. Such is the unpleasant lot of anyone in authority.
Sometimes, though, if you are not in such a position of authority, it is OK to be uncertain, and if uncertain, then quiet. Scripture is full of warnings about our temptation to rush to judgment, from Solomon’s observation that “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17), to Jesus’s admonition, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1), to James’s pithy reminder to be “quick to hear and slow to speak” (James 1:19).
Clearly, the tendency to jump to conclusions—particularly when those conclusions paint those we dislike in an ugly light—is nothing new. But our 24/7 news cycle and smothering vapor of social media have supercharged this temptation. Inundated with pseudo-information and barraged with others’ hot takes, we feel justified in offering our own. Indeed, it can be almost impossible to resist the pressure to chime in, especially when the echo-chambers we inhabit make it easy for us to imagine that the relevant facts are reasonably settled. The digital age has tended to shatter the comforting Protestant doctrine of vocation. Instead of each of us being called to worry about one calling (e.g., farming, accounting, politics, or journalism), all of us feel called to worry about everything.
The events of Aug. 8 are important—no question about that. They could, indeed, represent a dangerous new stage in the slow-motion unraveling of our republic. It is entirely appropriate to ask for answers and to demand that relevant authorities be as transparent as possible. But, almost by their very nature, events like these will take time to understand and interpret. If Christians can demonstrate a bit of patience, an ability to wait for more information for at least a little bit longer, we can offer our world a powerful witness.
Brad Littlejohn, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping public leaders understand the intellectual and historical foundations of our current breakdown of public trust, social cohesion, and sound governance. His research investigates shifting understandings of the nature of freedom and authority, and how a more full-orbed conception of freedom, rooted in the Christian tradition, can inform policy that respects both the dignity of the individual and the urgency of the common good. He also serves as President of the Davenant Institute.
Image from Christine Davis on Wikimedia via Creative Commons 2.0