The banter back and forth turned ugly quickly. Talk slid easily into name calling and condescension. As the conversation went on, few issues were discussed or solved, nothing was learned, and people were pitted against other people.
This could easily be a description of recent news shows, social media, or perhaps even a little closer to home when people have differing ideas about any given topic. This reality is particularly true given the progressive march toward Election Day and our deep fears and concerns about the outcomes. Last week, I wrote about how we might faithfully and prayerfully engage the election season as followers of Christ. (http://www.oldbethel.org/#!Day-by-Day-with-Pastor-Jen/c1zvd/56d84fbb0cf25a66a5364c87)
Some church members responded with the hope of engaging election season in an honorable and faithful way, but asked: 1) How might we actually engage political conversations in an honorable way in this climate? and 2) Is it best not to say anything at all?
We need the voices of faithful people engaging hard conversations. We can honor God and not stifle conversations or squelch passion about a topic. We can honor God and disagree with the person with whom we are engaged in conversation. Let’s turn to the long, deep tradition of our faith called Holy Conferencing for a few pointers.
Holy Conferencing is discussed and encouraged by John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist tradition in the Christian Faith. The process of Holy Conferencing is the spirit and principle which empowers us to find a way forward in difficult conversation, honor God and each other while experiencing the grace and Spirit-leading of God. Let us use a few principles from the practice of Holy Conferencing as we involve ourselves in important discussions around political and civil issues which affect American life and thus elections.
Remember that every person is a child of God. Although we may get angry with another or even find their viewpoints repugnant, it is far harder to demonize them if we strive to care for others as God’s creation. “If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see?” (1 John 4:20-21, The Message). If you are engaging on social media, try to see a picture of the person with whom you are speaking in order to remind yourself they are real, they have feelings, and they are a child of God.
Listen before speaking. To listen before speaking means that we suspend judgment about the other. Our job is not to convince others that we are right. It is to listen and seek to understand why others believe, behave, or even vote as they do. Through listening STRIVE to accurately understand and describe, without condescension or deprecating tones, what someone with a differing opinion believes. Say, “I think I hear you saying that you believe….” And then let them correct that statement if it doesn’t yet accurately reflect their reasoning. Scripture says, “Welcome with open arms those who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with…” (Romans 14:1, The Message). One person on Facebook recently posted, “Please help me understand why you are voting for (fill in the blank). Please no sarcasm or flippant remarks. I really want to understand your thinking.” The responses were issue based and filled with personal experiences.
Speak about issues; do not defame people. In order to change the culture of disharmony around us, we need to change the conversation. Even in our disagreement let us not denigrate others. Instead of categorizing people with, “All conservatives or liberals are....” Instead of negatively characterizing with, “S/he is such a….” Instead of name calling with, “How stupid and sleazy they are because they believe…” - let us discuss the issues. We can share articles and facts about voting records, political platforms, or proven improprieties of a given candidate without degrading others. Better yet, instead of tearing down what we hate, how about we share what and who we uphold? A mentor of mine circulates political articles which are respectfully written but have a definite slant. He posts them and writes, “Something to consider. What are your thoughts?” I think Christ warns us forcefully about our use of language, “Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.”, (Matthew 5:22, The Message). Jesus got my attention there!
Let prayer interrupt your busy-ness. Praying that your heart will be open to the way God speaks to you and moves you through other people will allow God to guide you in all conversations. Let us pray without ceasing…
May you wonderful people of faith engage the hard topics with people with whom you disagree. May God grow you in wisdom, meet you in grace, and perfect you in love along the way.
Gift cards: You are invited to donate Kroger or Walmart gift cards in the amount of $25 (no more, no less) which will serve as participation incentives for our neighbors living in poverty who are engaged in the Getting Ahead classes as they work towards financial stability and getting ahead in a getting by world. You may place the gift cards in the designated drop box in the narthex on Sundays or in Pastor Matthew’s mailbox throughout the week.
Community Easter Egg Hunt: Saturday, March 19 at 10am at Old Bethel UMC. Open to children through 5th Grade. Invite your friends and neighbors to this fun and engaging time of our community. In preparation for the largest Easter egg hunt in the history of Old Bethel, we are in need of VOLUNTEERS for a variety of tasks. Contact Mackenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Serving Christ Together,