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Casting the Beam out of Political Discourse
I don't participate in a lot of political discussions. But I do like to stay informed on current events (often through the Christian Science Monitor), and over the last couple of months I've seen an increased number of political discussions taking place on Facebook. Often these political "discussions" end up being entirely one-sided, or if someone does work up the courage to express an opposing viewpoint, it's quickly cut up into little pieces by an army of defensive friends. And this takes place on both "sides" of the political spectrum.
Frankly, a lot of the issues themselves don't really concern me. Or at least, they don't concern me nearly as much as the thoughts and behaviors of my friends who are expressing them. I already know where I stand on many political issues, and honestly... no Facebook status message (even one in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!) is likely ever going to change another's viewpoint, when that viewpoint is already shaped by experience. But the political issues we so vehemently debate rarely touch on the real issues that people care about, deep in their hearts. Politics are often used as a filter, or a mask, for the underlying fears and frustrations that we face. So even after someone debates the popular issues until they're blue in the face, they're still left with the same lingering concerns about life and the future. Those concerns are what I try to discern, and what really matter.
Through this filter of politics, I have observed the following three qualities seep through most frequently, each of which I want to address separately:
- Idol worship
- Intense fear
I'm only going to touch on the first one in today's blog post, namely "self-righteousness." What's the first thing you think of when you hear "self-righteousness"? Do you think of someone else, someone who has acted in a self-righteous or judgmental way toward you, or others? Maybe it's not even a specific person, but a hazy archetype that you've conceived in your head? Well, I've found it's been more helpful to check my own behaviors first, before condemning the behaviors of others. This isn't a new idea either. Here's a quote from Jesus:
How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
When I speak of "self-righteousness," I urge you to first examine yourself and no one else. This is what Jesus taught and practiced. Are you a self-righteous person? "No." Well if you say "no," do you really believe anyone else would respond to that question saying, "oh yes, that's me"? Few people ever truly think of themselves as being self-righteous. Yet we observe the phenomena anyway. So rather than focusing on correcting everyone else, start by watching for it in your own thinking.
If someone else has expressed a dissenting opinion, ask yourself: have I honestly been willing to listen to them? Or have I judged them to be a "hater," or "ignorant", or any other dismissive adjective? People sometimes believe that our politics will ultimately determine our legacy. They think that if we're just on the "right side" of things, we'll be remembered as loving and righteous. No, no, no! Be loving right now. How you treat others -- especially those who disagree with you -- says a lot more for how you'll be remembered. That doesn't mean you have to acquiesce to an opinion you don't agree with. But just because you don't agree with someone doesn't mean you can't have a civil conversation with them. And it certainly doesn't mean you can't still love them!
Jesus taught that to mistreat or malign the "least" of people was to mistreat and malign himself. But when he spoke of the "least of them," he spoke in relative terms. In other words, you don't get to pick who the "least of them" are in advance. The "least" are whoever comes into your experience, not only the predetermined social groups that you already love to defend. Ask yourself: am I equally willing to see, and defend, the divinity within those that I disagree with?
And you know, you're going to fail at this. I've failed at it before, and I'm sure I'll fail at it again. But that is where grace comes in, to rescue us. People have an innate desire to love and to forgive; it is hard-wired in the very fabric of our being. So what if you were dismissed or alienated in a political discussion? Be willing to forgive and forget, however many times it takes. What if you were the one who made someone else feel alienated or unwelcome, and you're just now realizing it? Well hopefully you can actually see that (which is a huge step!), and then trust God to present an opportunity for reconciliation, an opportunity for grace. When you see something in yourself that is in error, acknowledge it as wrong, learn from it so that you don't do it again, and then forgive yourself and move on.
This may make for some rather messy discussions. But I know that God doesn't care about what political party you voted for, or whether two people have differing opinions on taxes and gun control. He cares about what's in your heart, and how we treat others along the way. To close, here is an excerpt from The Master's Men by William Barclay, without further comment:
The constitution of the twelve [apostles] presents us with a situation which is nothing less than a miracle in personal relationships. Within that society there was Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot -- Matthew who had accepted the political situation, and who was profitably engaged in help to administer it, and Simon who would have assassinated any Roman whom he could reach and would have plunged a dagger into any Jew who dared to cooperate with the Romans.
The plain truth is that, if Simon had met Matthew under any other circumstances, he would have murdered him. [...] Here is one of the greatest of all examples of personal enmity destroyed by common love of Christ.