In an address delivered at the 68th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., conservative author Arthur Brooks encouraged biblical love amid a nationwide “crisis of contempt and polarization,” reminding attendees that Jesus ordered His followers to love — and not just tolerate — their enemies.
Opening his speech, Brooks, a professor of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and senior fellow at the Harvard Business School, described himself as a “follower of Jesus.”
“[The same Jesus] who taught us to love God and taught us to love each other,” he added. “Today, I’m here to talk to you about the biggest crisis facing our nation and many other nations today: It’s the crisis of contempt and polarization that’s tearing our societies apart.”
“In this crisis resides the greatest opportunity we have ever had as people of faith to lift our nations up and to bring our people together,” Brooks declared.
When it comes to an “old” problem like contempt and polarization, It’s important to “think differently” to achieve a new and effective solution, he said.
The author of 11 books turned to the words of Jesus, society’s “greatest entrepreneur” and thinker, from Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Such words are as “subversive and counterintuitive” today as they were 2,000 years ago, Brooks said.
But to apply these words to today’s polarized society, “we need to make the problem personal,” he contended. The speaker revealed that his own parents, devout Christians, are politicly liberal, starkly contrasting his own politically conservative beliefs.
“I want it to be personal to you on this day,” the Love Your Enemies author said. “Let me ask you this: How many of you love somebody with whom you disagree politically? Are you comfortable hearing someone insult that person that you love? Make it personal, my friends.”
Moral courage, he said, isn’t standing up to those with whom you disagree. Rather, it’s “standing up to those with whom you agree on behalf of those with whom you disagree.”
When it comes to marriage, contempt “kills,” he pointed out, adding, “Contempt is ripping our country apart. We’re like a couple on the rocks in this country. Don’t believe it? Turn on prime time TV ... it’s tearing our society apart.”
“How do we break the habit of contempt? Some people say we need more civility and tolerance. I say, nonsense. Why? Because civility and tolerance are a low standard,” he said. “Jesus didn’t say, ‘tolerate your enemies.’ He said, ‘love your enemies.’ Answer hatred with love.”
Brooks gave audiences three pieces of homework: First, “ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing, to go against your human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching.”
“You believe Jesus' teaching, act like it,” he implored the audience. “Ask God to take political contempt from your heart. Sometimes, when it’s just too hard, ask God to help you fake it.”
Second, Brooks encouraged attendees to “make a commitment to somebody else to reject contempt.”
“Of course you’re going to disagree ... that’s what makes America great, it’s the competition of ideas,” he said. “But do it without contempt. Ask somebody to hold you accountable.”
Finally, he advised his audience to “go out looking for contempt.”
“It’s your opportunity for moral perfection,” Brooks explained. “Why? Because when people treat you with hatred and you answer with love, you change the country. It’s like being a missionary. This is your opportunity to show people what leadership is all about. Run toward the darkness, bring your light.”
“When you leave this National Prayer Breakfast today, you’ll be back in a world with a lot of contempt. See it as your opportunity,” he added.
Brooks advised listeners to imagine a sign above the door reading. “You are Now Entering Mission Territory.”
“If you see the world, if we see the world outside the room as mission territory, we might just mark this day as the point at which our national healing begins,” he concluded.
President Donald Trump also spoke at Thursday’s event, which was also attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who led the Democratic House members' partisan impeachment charge against the Republican president.
Ahead of Brooks’ speech, Gospel artist Cece Winans sang “Peace from God.” She quoted Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”