One of the great ironies of the connected world is that our connections make it easier to split us apart. The internet, which many wide-eyed digital optimists thought would lead to a more perfect, democratic world, has also led to a world in which our divisions can be exploited.
That exploitation has taken many forms in the recent past, but the most famous example of late is Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. That hacking, and Russia’s previous meddling in Estonia’s government, was the subject of a recent episode of The Weekly, a new show from the New York Times.
The show is a behind-the-scenes look at a big story at the Times. You follow the journalist along as they interview long-forgotten witnesses, scribble notes in their Moleskin notebooks, and review documents and footage. (That might sound boring to you, but it’s like candy to me.)
In the episode titled “The Blueprint,” we follow reporter Matt Apuzzo, who has been digging into Russian hacking for the Times. He and his colleagues have a huge spreadsheet that lays out the timeline for everything they know. The first entry in the spreadsheet piqued Apuzzo’s interest. It was about Russian hacking in Estonia.
Apuzzo starts following the lead and learns that Russia launched a cyberattack on Estonia in 2007 that closely mirrored what they were accused of doing in the U.S. in and around 2016. But why did the Kremlin try to divide these two countries?
Apuzzo learns that Russia didn’t set out to divide the countries but to exploit the divisions already present.
His conclusion hangs in the air as the show fades out: “The more divided a country is, the more vulnerable it becomes. It’s not about the last attack; it’s about the next one.”
His words remind me of Jesus’ line, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A “house” can be a country, a home, a church, or a relationship. In each of these, division is a liability. The more we pull back into our own factions or tribes, the more vulnerable we are to being exploited at the point of those disagreements.
“In both Estonia and America, the Kremlin had plenty of raw material to work with,” says Apuzzo. In Estonia, Russia exploited the history of its own occupation of the small European state in earlier decades and the effects it’s had on Estonians. “In the US, that means guns, immigration, and especially race.”
Jesus, knowing the destructive power of disunity, prayed specifically for oneness — for unity — in his last prayer before his execution. He prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” (John 17:21).
Unity is strength; division, weakness.
The question for us today is what divisions exist in our churches, homes, schools, or organizations? Where might the devil seek to stoke the fire of our latent divisions and flame them into flames?
If you resent your spouse, reconcile with them. If you are spreading gossip in your church, stop and repent. If you are playing favorites at work, quit and ask forgiveness.
If you love your family, your church, your institution, pursue unity. Fight for it. Seek after it. Don’t stop until you have it, or it might not be around long enough to save.