374. love your (political) enemies
I’m not sure when or how it happened, but I’ve become rather political lately, especially on facebook. I’ve been putting up a bunch of links to articles about Republicans disenfranchising Democratic voters, the odd claim this year from the GOP about Democrats not having the word, “God,” in their platform, the lies being told on the campaign trail by Republicans and Democrats (IMHO, the lies coming from the right are far more egregious than those from the left), and a bunch of other links.
Based on the articles I’ve been putting up, I think it’s easy to see that I side far more with liberal Democrats than I do with Republicans (at this point, calling them conservative Republicans would be redundant).
In addition to linking to articles, I also (occasionally) comment on posts/articles that some of my more conservative friends put up. When I do this, I do my best to be polite and respectful (and this often requires a great deal of restraint on my part) while still being clear about why I might disagree. But no matter how nice and reasonable I try to be, some people just can’t help but go apeshit when people disagree with them.
For example, twice last week (once for saying I support gay marriage and once for saying I support the right for women make their own choices regarding abortion), in two completely separate comment threads, I got accused of not being a Christian because of the political positions I supported. Both times, I politely pointed out that I entrust my salvation status to God, not facebook commenters.
Anyway, in a surprising turn, one of these fb political discussions got unexpectedly personal – in a good way. One person (who pretty adamantly disagreed with me) shared a bit from his own story about why he felt so strongly about his stance.
And I was touched. I mean, I still disagreed with his position, but getting a glimpse of the humanity behind the politics was really refreshing.
And I decided to respond in kind.
Here’s a lightly edited version of my fb response:
Tony Campolo once said: “We need conservatives in the church because they hold lines that should never be crossed. We need liberals in the church because they erase lines that never should have been there in the first place.”
Here’s the bottom line for me. I don’t know the will of God. I don’t know the one correct interpretation of scripture. I readily admit that my theology, my hermeneutic, my politics, my ethics are all incomplete and flawed. I do my best to listen for the still small voice of God, and over and over again, it can be maddeningly difficult to discern the difference between God’s ways and my own.
But I try.
And I fail.
And then I try again.
One of the ways that I grow in my learning is by listening to and discussing matters with people who hold views that differ from my own. Because I know it’s all too easy for me to get stuck in ideas that are familiar, I need the voices of others to question and challenge me and my positions – to point out flaws and blind spots in my thinking.
I always try to do my best to take objections seriously – really weighing the merits of peoples’ objections – and because of this, throughout my life, I’ve changed my mind around a large number of issues.
See, I actually used to be really, REALLY conservative. Reading Rush Limbaugh’s book, The Way Things Ought To Be was my introduction to the world of politics – his book taught me what an entitlement was and how gun laws only punish law abiding citizens. He was the one who showed me that what happens in Washington has a huge impact on my life and so I had better pay attention.
I’ve obviously moved very far away from most of Rush’s ideology and here’s the thing that I think very few people appreciate. My shifts in ideas only came after very long, very difficult struggles with myself, with friends, with scripture, and with God.
Really, honestly weighing the merits of new ideas isn’t easy and jettisoning old, familiar conceptual frameworks in order to take on new ones is an angst-ridden, often demoralizing experience – because who wants to admit that the way they understood the world was flawed? And after that admission comes the long, difficult work of reorienting one’s self into a new paradigm.
But I always did my best to follow trains of thought wherever reason and discernment led.
And now I’m a lefty.
Who knows. Maybe a day will come when I find good, solid arguments to move way back towards the right. I intentionally try to keep myself plugged into conservative news and commentary because I know that bias can blind (or at least influence) reporters’ coverage and I do understand and admit that the news media as a whole tends to lean left-ward (though not as much as conservatives claim – I think most reporters do their best to remain objective, but bias is a subtle, pernicious, often subconscious influence).
Anyway, I’m not sure why I’m saying all of this. I guess the previous commenter gave a bit of his story and that got me to open up and offer a bit of my own.
Thanks for sharing and for letting me share.
You know, when I engage in political discussion, I never really expect the person on the other side of the discussion to change their mind. I mean, it would be great if they did, but that’s not my primary aim. My aspirations are far more modest. I just want to give a cogent account for why I hold the views that I do – to show that they’re not unreasonable or emotionally based or heretical, and that liberals aren’t out there to destroy America.
I also engage in discussion because maybe I’m the one that needs to be changed and the only way I can know that is to see the other side’s objection.
In short, I do my best to think of these encounters not as debates, but as discussions. For me, the difference is that in a debate, people are aiming to win, whereas in a discussion, people are aiming for understanding – to understand the other side’s perspective and to hope that they can understand theirs.
Understanding doesn’t mean agreement – that’s a point I think a lot of people miss. It just means that we actually comprehend the totality of what we’re disagreeing about. Because here’s the thing. Most people only listen for weaknesses in the other side’s argument. They’re only listening for confirmation on why the other side is so misguided. They seldom listen for the merits of the other side’s position.
Most of what passes for political debate/discussion today is really just pundits pitting straw man against straw man. And then we wonder why our political system is so divisive and deadlocked. What we need is more humanity in the process. We need less debate and more substantive, sincere discussion. We need to stop trying to win arguments and start trying to understand (really understand) both sides of issues that we disagree on. We need to love and pray for our political enemies and we can only love and pray for people we understand. Otherwise, you’re praying for a straw man – you’re praying for someone else (maybe yourself).
Left, right, and center, we all want a better America for ourselves, for our kids, and for generations to come. And the only way we can have that is through understanding.
I’m Randall Ajimine, and I approve this message.