News broke this week that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh passed away. Social media was aflame (as always), and divided (as always) over the legacy of this man. For those on the right, Limbaugh was a lion of a man, a genius, a pioneer for what it means to fight for conservative political ideals in the modern age. For those on the left . . . well, let’s say that some were more gracious than others. Some rejoiced at the news. Others expressed lament for how they believe Limbaugh deceived many and exacerbated the political divide in this country.
I will be honest. I went through a season of life when I listened to political talk radio–mostly conservative talk radio. I dabbled with left leaning talk show hosts for awhile, but I never found them as compelling. I listened to Limbaugh and others, and I found them persuasive and entertaining. I found myself parroting their talking points . . . excuse me . . . arguments against the Democrats and “RINOs” (Republicans in name only). Not only did I use their words, but I found myself using their attitudes and emotions as well. A picture of a political opponent, say Hillary Clinton or Chuck Schumer, would evoke a visceral reaction in me. This was not just strong disagreement, but contempt and hatred for them as enemies of all that is right and good.
It took me a long time before I realized what was going on with Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and others. They were engaged in spiritual formation and discipleship. (Yes, college professors and left-leaning talk show hosts do it too.) Limbaugh’s radio program trained people to think and act like him three hours a day, five days a week. Whether he was discipling people out of genuine belief in his ideology or out of desire for ratings and influence does not matter. He created legions of “Ditto-heads” aka disciples who thought, spoke, and felt the same as his public persona did.
Let’s be honest about Limbaugh’s public persona for a minute. I did not know him privately, so I cannot speak to who he was away from the microphone. However, his public persona was one of bombastic arrogance and rudeness. He claimed to have “talent on loan from God.” Whether you like him or not, you have to admit that is an arrogant if not blasphemous claim. He would call people names in an effort to belittle and dehumanize. Again, even if you like him, you have to admit that this was his schtick.
Now let’s compare that schtick to what Christians are called to in their discipleship into the image of King Jesus.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23 English Standard Version
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 13:3-7 English Standard Version
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”Matthew 6:43-48 English Standard Version
In the American Church, we have a discipleship problem. The problem is that the world is out-discipling us. Whether from the left or the right of the cultural/political spectrum, the world is discipling people away from the image of Jesus. Three hours a day, five days a week, leads to 15 hours a week of discipling into the likeness of Rush Limbaugh. When you add the other conservative talk radio and cable news hosts who modeled and formed themselves after Rush’s style, you could easily get to 30-40 hours a week. All of this compared to what? One hour on Sunday? 15 minutes a day reading the Bible or a short devotional?
We tell our kids to be careful who they let influence them (movies, music, video games, and friends). Yet as adults, we think we are immune from that advice. Who is influencing you? Are they demonstrating and leading you to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Or are they leading you away from the image and character of Jesus? Maybe we would benefit from stepping away from these voices and plugging more into King Jesus.