Yesterday i had a woman tell me that I should avoid talking to her because w disagree on most major issues in politics and religion. I had simply asked her what she meant in a statement. The reality is we are far closer on most issues than she understands, but she highlighted so much that is wrong in society today by how she handled the situation.
First, she and I both claim to follow Jesus. So by default we should have far more in common than we have disagreements. I realize there are exceptions to that rule but given the traditions we grew up in my comment is valid. However, she is either making a blanket statement about the differences between us, substituting the minor cultural differences for the true majors of the faith, or defining her faith by her politics. Any of these responses is a negative. She is either creating an artificial barrier between us or else she is moving away from the historic faith. Something similar is probably true of our political leanings. We probably have far more in common than not.
Such realities are what makes her comment so hurtful to me. She was hiding behind an artificial barrier so she did not have to engage me on a relatively minor issue. She made an assumption that my question was not a sincere inquiry or that I would irrational in our dialogue and dismissed me. Her behavior highlights what is going on in our society right now. So often we get it into our heads that it is impossible to have common ground with anyone across the political aisle. We act as though there is no room to learn and grow from those we have political disagreements with. And, as her comment demonstrated, we overemphasize those disagreements and expand them into all areas of life.
Our temptation is to only listen to those within our bubble, reinforcing our beliefs with the opinions of the like-minded. In her current frame of mind we cannot learn from each other because we disagree. This is not Christian behavior, Christian behavior is to listen respectfully to others and to try to answer individuals when they pose questions.A Christian may say, “I do not feel up to a conversation now,” or “I do not feel adequately prepared to answer that question at the moment.” These are honest answers to challenges, however, we cannot be dismissive. If a person proves combative or unwilling to listen and carry on an intelligent conversation we may disengage. But we cannot block conversation from happening. This is particularly true if the disagreements are of substance.
Unfortunately, especially in the political world, I fail to see this happening among Christians. We all claim we value life and justice but then are unwilling to talk to people with a different letter on their ballot about how our commitments to life and justice influence our voting. We all agree God made the world “good” and told humanity to “govern” the world, but we fail to discuss what that means for society. We all agree that we should not fear, we should care for the poor, and should abhor laziness, but sadly again we allow political divisions to keep us from talking through what can be done.
What unites us as Christians is vitally important, and talking through our divergent ideas can help make the Church stronger. I benefit from listening to people from a variety of political and faith perspectives. Sometimes I learn new information which forces me to adjust my views. Sometimes I clarify my own views so that I better understand what I believe. Sometimes the only thing I learn is greater compassion for the other person (usually only when the person is very ignorant). But all of this is valuable it helps me grow and develop as a person and helps me have a greater appreciation and understanding of life. We cannot and should not walk through life only reinforcing our bubbles. If we do our bubbles will grow ever smaller until there is only room for one. If I isolate myself from an individual because of a disagreement eventually I will have no one I agree with and I will be bitter and alone.
What this means, particularly for Christians dealing with other Christians, is that regardless of political party, I must learn to have good discussions on issues (particularly when I bring them up). I must ask what motivates the other person’s beliefs, what are the principles driving that ideal and is such a connection legitimate? Dismissive language will only fracture our society further, we must do the difficult work of having true dialogue.