Politics is headline news right now. With a federal election one week away, we’re hard-pressed to escape it.
And yet, Christians should not seek to escape politics. Governments are a God-given good for all of humanity (see Rom 13:1-2). And if we’re enrolled as voters, we have a God-given responsibility to be involved in the political process. Putting our heads in the sand and ignoring politics is not just unwise (it gives non-Christian ideologies a louder voice in the political process), it’s also unbiblical.
But let’s face it: politics can be contentious. It can be controversial. Different people (including Christians) will come to varying conclusions about who to vote for (and who not to vote for). And this can raise the emotional temperature, even within churches (I know of churches divided along political lines).
So how do we engage with fellow believers about contested political issues without dividing our church?
Here are 8 suggestions:
1. Leave Your Ego at the Door When Discussing Politics
God cares more about your holiness than whether you win political arguments.
If you’re anything like me, you get passionate about issues you care about. You want others to understand you, and agree with you, because, hey, you’ve done your homework, and you know what’s at stake.
And so, you get fired up when discussing politics. You want to win the argument because the future of civilisation is at stake … and, before you know it, your ego is in the driver’s seat.
But what happens when your ego takes over? We’ve all been there: Tempers flare. Voices are raised. And God is dishonoured.
But God cares more about your holiness than you winning political debates. He cares more about how you treat those you disagree with than about your sharp rhetorical wit.
God cares more about your holiness than you winning political debates. He cares more about how you treat those you disagree with than about your sharp rhetorical wit.
So leave your ego at the door, before it takes over the driver’s seat.
2. Show Grace Instead of Outrage Toward Those Who Disagree With You
As citizens of a heavenly Kingdom, we follow the footsteps of our Heavenly King. And this means being gentle and gracious toward those you disagree with—even if they insult you.
While we live in a culture of outrage toward those that think differently toward us (especially on contested political matters), we’re to be different: living in our culture but not behaving like our culture.
Especially on social media.
3. Don’t Assume the Worst of Those You Disagree With
Especially when it comes to their intentions.
It’s easy to assume that those we disagree with are intellectually and morally inferior to us. And that they have questionable intentions. After all, don’t all right-thinking Christians have my view on political issues?
But like so many contestable issues, Christians can come to different conclusions about politics. We should give each other the benefit of the doubt, including about our intentions.
As author and Pastor Kevin DeYoung pointed out prior to the November 2016 US election:
[Not] every Christian must come to the same [political] decision in order to be a good Christian. There are simply too many prudential matters in the mix for Christians to be adamant that you absolutely cannot vote for so and so…While our church might discipline a member for holding the positions Clinton holds or for behaving the way Trump has behaved, this does not mean we have biblical grounds for disciplining a church member who, for any number of reasons and calculations, may decide that voting for either candidate (or neither) makes the most sense.
And if we wouldn’t discipline someone for a presidential vote, we should stop short of saying such a vote is sinful and shameful.’
4. Play the Ball, Not the Man
We can and should question ideas, without attacking the person who holds them.
Christians should explore, question, and debate different political ideas. It’s one way we can test their veracity, and come to a better understanding of reality.
But as we do this, we should show respect to those holding these ideas – even ones we disagree with. Loving our neighbour may involve disagreeing with their political ideas, but it never involves belittling them as image bearers of the Heavenly King.
5. Work Hard to First Understand What the Other Person is Saying
Especially when it comes to loaded political terms like ‘equality’, ‘fairness’, and ‘rights’.
Political jargon and ideas mean different things to different people. To those who are more left-leaning politically, a term like ‘equality’ will be more akin to ‘equality of outcome’. To those who are more conservative in their views, ‘equality’ will mean ‘equality of opportunity’.
Thus understanding what the other person is saying is critical to having a reasonable discussion with them.
And the simple way to understand them is to ask the following question: ‘What do you mean by that?’.
This simple question will help clarify what they’re saying, and prevent misunderstanding (how many arguments have you had over a misunderstanding?). You’ll more like have a fruitful and engaging conversation.
6. Move the Conversation ‘Upstream’
Uncover the beliefs undergirding their political views.
Once you’ve understood the other person, a good next step is to ‘go upstream’ in the discussion by uncovering and discussing the underlying beliefs behind their views. This will often lead to a more constructive conversation where you grow in understanding of each other’s point of view.
Again, there’s a question that takes the conversation upstream:
‘How did you come to that conclusion?’
For example, if the other person believes equality to mean ‘equality of opportunity’, you could ask ‘how did you come to the conclusion that true equality is ‘equality of opportunity’?
At the very least, this will take the heat out of the discussion, and help grow mutual understanding.
7. Don’t Argue Against ‘Straw Men’
Do the hard work of understanding the other person’s views.
So much conversation around contentious issues involves arguing and attacking positions that we mistakenly think the other person holds—‘straw men’ positions.
It’s an easy but lazy way of engaging with people we disagree with. Our brains are wired to make conclusions about others based on what they say and do (it takes the cognitive load off us).
So much conversation around contentious issues involves arguing and attacking ‘straw men’ positions.
But ‘straw manning’ doesn’t lead to fruitful conversations, only misunderstandings and arguments (just think of the conclusion secular culture draws about anyone who holds to traditional marriage).
Instead, we should do what theologian David Bentley Hart advocates for:
An honest and honourable critic of any idea will always seek out and try to understand the strongest possible formulations of that idea, as well as the most pervasive arguments in its favour, before attempting its refutation.’
8. Give The Other Person the Last Word
If you’ve ever been in a heated discussion, you’ll know the temptation to have the final say. Facebook comment threads go forever, as two opposing people try and get in the last word.
But more often than not, what drives us to have the last word is our selfish ego, wanting to win the argument. But this reveals a lack of grace toward the other. It’s not Christlike. Instead, we need to honour the other person (even if we disagree with their views)and we don’t do that by wanting to have the last word.
Don’t split your church over earthly politics
Earthly politics has a legitimate role to play in the life of Christians. And yet, it’s not ultimate. Kevin DeYoung makes this point well:
I am interested in politics, always have been. I follow the ups and downs and ins and outs of the campaign season closely. I love my country and care about who wins and loses. Elections have consequences.
Yet I’m much more interested in the church—my church and the Church. Our fidelity to biblical truth, our personal holiness, our sincerity, our consistency, our ability to speak with grace and truth, our unwillingness to confuse the kingdom of this world with the kingdom of Christ, our realism in the midst of utopian promises, our hope in the midst of fear and loathing, our winsome witness to the gospel—to embody these realities week after week is more important than what happens [in the election].’
Earthly politics is important, yes. But it must never compromise our faithfulness to Christ. Especially when it comes to loving our fellow believers.
First published at http://akosbalogh.com/