Welcome to 2020, a year of stark political polarization! We thought 2016 was a divisive year, but it might just be a picnic in comparison to what seems to be unfolding in 2020. Both sides have dug into their respective trenches. Demonizing those on the other side is now the norm. This is our current state of affairs, and it saddens me.
We know this isn’t how things should be, particularly as Christians. I’m saddened by the way many of my friends, especially the ones who love Jesus, have approached political issues in the last couple of years. Their harsh and critical spirit is especially evident in their social media activity. If you’re truly my friend, we should be able to disagree yet remain respectful. Our commitment to Jesus, and to our fellow Christians, should come before our political beliefs.
However, it seems very few people know how to engage in a respectful manner, so it’s difficult to learn from example. I’m not an expert, but here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when you’re having discussions in person and on social media, especially over the course of the next few months.
REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE HAVE VALID REASONS FOR THEIR BELIEFS
Most people have at least some semblance of a reason for why they think the way that they do. Varying opinions have little to do with intelligence levels—even experts who have devoted their entire lives to studying a particular issue, run into disagreements amongst themselves.
When someone is uninformed about a particular topic, sharing additional information with humility and gentleness may be helpful. However, most of the time, people have a reason for the opinions they hold. They’re not usually just blindly following others, or wholesale buying what they hear in the media. Be cautious of writing people off as ignorant or uninformed if they don’t agree with you.
ASK HONEST QUESTIONS AND RESPOND THOUGHTFULLY
If you want to understand why people think the way they do, ask honest questions. Honest questions aren’t a set up to make someone look stupid. They are legitimate inquiries about facts or reasoning. It helps to phrase them graciously, and with the posture to learn.
Don’t forget to respond with the same grace when questioned in return. If someone asks you an honest question, take the time to respond thoughtfully and respectfully. Give the asker the benefit of the doubt and always assume questions are coming from an honest place. It’s better to respond graciously than ignore or mock.
A few months ago, my sister posted an article on Facebook about gun control. Someone asked her a legitimate question. My sister took the time to respond to the question, which led to a civil discussion. Others joined in with clarifications about current laws, potential problems with solutions, etc.
If my sister had not responded honestly and graciously to those questions, none of us would have learned anything from that exchange. Instead, because she was willing to engage respectfully, several people—including her—learned things they didn’t know before.
Exchanging ideas in a respectful manner should always be the goal. Even if people don’t change their minds, perhaps, at the very least, they will have gained a better understanding of others’ points of view.
AVOID STATEMENTS THAT STEREOTYPE
To say, “No thinking Christian/Republican/Democrat/Woman/Minority should believe X….” is downright insulting, disrespectful, and arrogant. Again, intelligent, well-researched people disagree on many topics.
This kind of discourse may bring out others who support your position and make you feel better about what you believe, but it is degrading to those that see things differently. No one who disagrees with you is going to be able to engage in a conversation that begins this way. This is never how Jesus wants us to talk to or about people.
If we want to see the Kingdom of God in our political discourse, we have to be willing to hear from those who disagree with us. We must trust that if they are a part of the body of Christ, they have something to teach us.
That doesn’t mean people are always right. They may be wrong in their reasoning, and you may be right. However, insulting and alienating someone is unlikely to go very far in changing that person’s opinion.
BE WILLING TO RECOGNIZE THE SHORTCOMINGS OF YOUR OWN SIDE
Let’s be honest, no position, side, party, or candidate is perfect. They all have their flaws and weaknesses. Be aware of the shortcomings in your own position—don’t try to cover them up or justify them. Be willing to call out your own side when they need to be called out. This will go a long way in showing integrity. Be more concerned about putting forth truth than about ‘winning.‘
Similarly, take the time to find out what the validity is in opposing positions. Often, we can agree on the problem even if we don’t agree on the solution. There are always multiple solutions, each with their own unique pros and cons. Know your position’s weaknesses and be humble enough to accept the other side’s valid points.
EXPAND YOUR SOURCE MATERIAL
Right now, we’re trapped in echo chambers. If you lean towards the left, you tend to mistrust all news sources from the right, while those on the other side feel exactly the opposite.
The problem is, all news sources get some things right and some things wrong. We should, therefore, be able to admit that all our sources are potentially biased and recognize the need to expand on our material.
Don’t only read CNN or Fox News.
Take the time to read both. Find a friend on the other side and ask them what they’re hearing about the latest topics. Listen to podcasts with hosts that hold an opposing viewpoint to your own. At the end of the day, you still may not agree, but you’ll have a better understanding of the why behind their beliefs.
If we can remember that every person we interact with face to face or online is a beloved child of God, made in His image, productive political conversations are possible! If we can be respectful in our discourse, we can make a difference in the political atmosphere one interaction at a time.
Choosing to be gracious and humble is how we can love our neighbor even in the middle of escalating tensions and an election year.
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