Just a week ago, as I write these words, I joined a great many other Americans to watch two testimonies on television — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. As a nation, we gathered at our screens, as if we were sitting around one common national campfire; but, beyond that, no commonality could be assumed. I believed one of those giving testimony, and disbelieved the other — 100 percent. In the days following, the rhetoric from Washington and beyond has scorched one or the other of those who testified. Such scorching has come from Washington cloakrooms, from water coolers and gyms and diners and church pews and, just yesterday, from the president himself speaking to a Mississippi crowd.

One of my colleagues here at Austin Seminary reflected to me in an email that he was particularly impacted by Christine Blasey Ford’s answer to the question regarding what the most painful and traumatic memory was with respect to the sexual assault she described decades ago. “She did not reply ‘anger, remorse, fear or hurt,’” he wrote. “All those things were no doubt present, but she put one thing in first place and above all. She answered with one word: ‘Laughter.’” Laughter, he said, between two alleged assailants, underscoring that she was the object of ridicule and disdain.

He got me thinking about laughter. I’m a person who likes to laugh, even to evoke laughter — sometimes in a familiar group setting, sometimes from the pulpit. I laugh every time I watch the late Peter Sellers’ “Pink Panther” schtick. It evokes a kind of slip-on-the-banana-peel laughter. On a case, his Inspector Clouseau explores the home of a missing professor and, discovering the exercise room, tries his hand at the parallel bars and somehow propels himself over a banister and down the stairs and into the living room where he lands in front of the fireplace and catches his hand on fire. We laugh uproariously at the silliness of it all, just like we laugh when Amy Poehler or Tina Fey torture themselves for not getting things right all the time, or when Will Arnett messes up a magic trick in one of those “Arrested Development” reruns. That’s a kind of laughter, ironically, that builds community — a sort of “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” community. Or to put it literally, “common unity” — when the church is at her best.

But there is also a laughter that is the exact opposite of common unity. It is laughter that empowers one at another’s expense and, regrettably, I’m not above such laughter myself — derisive, painful, lacerating laughter. Laughter designed to diminish, to demonize, until the one laughed at is publicly humiliated and broken. So much of our political rhetoric in these ever-coarser days is laced with that kind of laughter. The line-drawing, enemy-making kind. That laughter doesn’t just dehumanize Blasey Ford — it dehumanizes us. It dehumanizes our body politic, our nation’s soul. Worse, it dehumanizes our own souls.

I wonder what can be done about this epidemic of abuse and its attendant laughter. I don’t expect public officials to rise up as one to reel in this laughter. I don’t expect a “President’s Commission on the Problem of Derision and What Can Be Done About It.” I don’t expect a constitutional amendment process. I don’t even expect the election of a new set of “Us” to rid the world of all that we associate with that old set of “Them.”

Nonetheless, it may be that the time has come for those of us branded with the mark of Christ to summon the courage it will take to say no to such laughter, and to stand against its privileged corrosiveness. If we do that soon enough, and for long enough, then maybe we might hear – from beyond our own time, yet echoing down through the ages – the laughter of God’s own self, that grand expansive sound that emerges when old caustic patterns are shattered and a new loveliness comes into view.

Good God, may it be so. Soon.

Ted WardlawTheodore J. Wardlaw is president and professor of homiletics of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.