“Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
~ James 1:19
I’ve heard Dennis Prager say that politics has become a functional substitute for religion in the lives of lots and lots of folks these days. People who dismiss God and who disregard God’s Word still seek meaning and purpose in their lives and for our world, but without a transcendent source to turn to, they often turn to political candidates, parties and causes to fill that void instead. The devotion that was once reserved for God has been redirected to Presidential tickets with messianic fervor, and the direction that was once sought from Scripture has been redirected to the planks of party platforms, position papers and stump speeches. It’s an interesting proposal, and it helps to explain the passion that we witness, and perhaps even feel ourselves, every four years.
Presidential elections are secular revivals, and as such they are filled with the same potential for renewal, and are subject to the same propensity for excess. Revivals stir up emotions. They catch you up in a wave of feeling that wash over you and then carry you off to places you never expected to go. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And so, depending on your own settled political convictions and conclusions, be careful in the coming months when in a flash of political fervor you feel the pressure to yell at somebody whose political convictions and conclusions differ from your own, that, or you find yourself really tempted to write them off, to just cut them out of your life. Because they disagree with you, they’re clearly stupid or wicked, right? And who’s got room in their lives for more people like that? So, “bye-bye!”
But this is a position that we as conscientious Christians must never to take. We’ve got to be “knock-down the dividing wall of hostility” sorts of people instead (Ephesians 2:15) because Jesus Christ, who is our peace, made it such a big part of His saving work to go to those who were far off, and to those who were close by, to knit them together into one new people in His love. I believe that this is an important part of what Ephesians 1:9-10 means when it tells us that in Christ Jesus the mystery of God’s will to bring all things together in Him has been revealed. It’s hard to know this, to believe this, and then to go around drawing lines, picking sides and writing off the people who disagree with you. We have a different calling. We need another strategy.
In all of the noise of the political conventions of the past two weeks, a source of calm reason that I came across was Benjamin Mathes’ posting at “Urban Confessional” called “How to Listen When You Disagree: A Lesson from the Republican National Convention” – July 27, 2016 (http://urbanconfessional.org/blog/howtodisagree). He wrote –
If there’s one question I get asked more than any other question, it’s this: “How do I listen to someone when I disagree with them?” There are many ways to answer this. It takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage to listen in the face of disagreement. I could write pages on each of these principles, but let’s start with the one thing that makes forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage possible. We must work to hear the person not just the opinion.
My friend, Agape, says it like this: “Hear the Biography, not the ideology.” When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view. Get their story, their biography, and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement. Like the roots of a tree, our stories, which can create our beliefs, are completely unique, and also connected. It is through story that we can find common ground enough to co-exist in the face of great, often necessary, tension. When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question: “Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
The truth is, if our love can hold space for paradox, tension, and disagreement, there’s room for all types of beliefs and opinions. Division is a choice. Life isn’t a Facebook feed. Our love, our listening, must “bring in,” not “edit out.” Dare to listen, dare to be quiet, dare to seek understanding; in the end, it’s the people we need to love, not their opinions.
I hear an echo of James 1:19 in this – “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” In fact, this is exactly what Doug Wilson called for in his July 16th “Blog & Mablog” posting on “Seven Principles for Navigating Times of Racial Animosity.” “In a Christian conversation, everyone talks,” he observed, “and everyone tries to listen.” And to be able to do this, Doug said, requires “a level head”
Wherever God has placed you in a time of tension, there will be people in your “tribe” who behave wickedly. A level-headed person knows and understands this. [And a level-headed person also knows and understands] that there are people in the “other” tribe who are laboring to keep a level head as well. Don’t make their job more difficult… You cannot avoid conflict with fools, but never willingly burn your bridges with those who are not fools… Distinguish between irrational partisans of a position, and those who happen to hold convictions other than yours. In the political/racial/economic mess that [we are in], make distinctions on the other side. (https://dougwils.com)
It’s time we talk politics in a way that models the teachings of Jesus
rather than mocks them.
~ Bryan Roberts ______________________________________________________________________________
Some practical guidance for how to actually go about doing our “level-headed best” as Christians in election years comes from Bryan Roberts’ article in Relevant Magazine – “7 Things Christians Need to Remember About Politics: How to be in the world, not of the world, in a culture of political vitriol” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com). He writes –
Political discourse is the Las Vegas of Christianity—the environment in which our sin is excused (You know – “What happens in Vegas…”). Hate is winked at, fear is perpetuated and strife is applauded. Go wild, Christ-follower. Your words have no consequences here. Jesus doesn’t live in Vegas. Not only are believers excused for their political indiscretions, but they are often applauded for committing them. Slander is explained away as righteous anger; winning arguments are esteemed higher than truthful ones (whether or not the “facts” align); and those who stir up dissension are given the pulpit. So I balk when pastors tell me the Church should engage in the political process. Why would we do that? The political process is dirty and broken and far from Jesus. Paranoia and vitriol are hardly attractive accessories for the bride of Christ. Rather than engage in the political process, Christians have a duty to elevate it. Like any other sin, we are called to stand above the partisan dissension and demonstrate a better way. Should we have an opinion? Yes. Should we care about our country? Yes. Should we vote? Yes. But it’s time we talk politics in a way that models the teachings of Jesus rather than mocks them.
Roberts then goes on to name seven things that he thinks we need to remember about politics as Christians, and while all of them are certainly deserving of our consideration, I found that #1, #4 and #6 hit me with particular force as I am working right now on trying to keep “a level head” for the next 100 days. Remember, Bryan Roberts wrote, that –
#1 – Both political parties go to church… There’s a Christian Left and, perhaps even less well-known, there’s a secular Right… Party lines are drawn in chalk, and they’re not hard to cross. The Church must be engaged in politics, but it must not be defined by the arbitrary lines in politics.
#4 – Thinking that your party’s platform is unflawed is a mistake… The social policies of your party were constructed by imperfect politicians fueled by ambition. It’s nearsighted to canonize them.
#6 – Don’t be paranoid… The country is not going to be destroyed if your candidate loses. As 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” So, stand up and demonstrate what God has given you. America has functioned—albeit, at varying levels of success—for years under the direction of alternating Democrat and Republican control, and at every flip, the other side thought it was the end of the world. It’s not… We’re a Church that believes that God is in control… not whoever’s in office now, and not whoever succeeds them.
And so, the crazy season has begun, and if it hasn’t happened to you already, it won’t be very long now before you are going to feel like your head is going to explode. So take a deep breath, remember who you are, and more importantly, who’s you are. Resolve right not that you aren’t going to get pulled off sides by the loud voices, the strong feelings, or the pressure to give in to simplism, sarcasm or sectarianism. Keep your wits about you. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Make it your highest objective this election season to keep a “level head.” Remember that in Jesus Christ you already know the mystery of God’s will (Ephesians 1:9-10), and so get busy “tearing down the middle wall of partition” wherever you encounter it (Ephesians 2:15). And come November 9th, no matter what happens at the polling booth, Jesus Christ will still be Lord, and His Kingdom will still come. DBS +