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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Luther on attack ads

What would Martin say?

A friend called to a troubled congregation began receiving unsigned letters. One Sunday at worship he shredded them, unread. The letters stopped. So did much of the mean-spiritedness in the congregation.

Voters could follow this pastor’s example. American politics is plagued by attack ads that smear candidates using all the tricks that highly paid advertising agencies can devise. And they’re unsigned. The sponsors of these hateful ads (unregulated political organizations) hide behind high-sounding committee-type names but are virtually untraceable. They don’t mention their candidate. They only demean the opponent.

I asked a Lutheran political friend why such mean-spirited ads are used. His reply: “Because they work.” A new ethical low point? The end justifies the meanness.

Negative campaigning plays to our fears, prejudices and insecurities because experience shows these motivate us most strongly. They have what psychologists call a sleeper-effect. They stick in our brains.


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