The challenge to resolve deep differences tears up families, churches and workplaces as well as political parties. The differences can feel as visceral as a punch in the gut.
For example, when Ben Carson, whom I respect so much, endorsed Donald Trump for president, I joined millions of evangelicals in a collective gasp.
I called a friend of mine who has worked in support of his candidacy. “What has Dr. Carson done?” I moaned. “What?” she replied, “I haven’t heard.” “He’s endorsed Trump.” I informed her, “I feel like the world is tilting on its axis. How can this be?” She moaned with me.
When it comes to faith and politics, we wrap our opinions in heavy blankets of emotion. Beginning with our very first perception of any person, especially a political candidate, we’re not just taking in a scene.
Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous. We see something and immediately evaluate it and enfold it into an emotional response.
As David Brooks writes in The Social Animal, “Researchers have found that “evaluative feelings, even on complicated issues like euthanasia, can be detected within 200 to 250 milliseconds after a statement is read. You don’t have to think about disgust, or shame, or embarrassment, or whether you should blush or not. It just happens.”
Research also shows that the greatest determiners of perception come from our relationships with others, especially our families while we’re growing up. No doubt our relationship with God as well.
This holds the key, I believe, to a path towards coming together. I’ve read 100 different logical reasons that reinforce my head-smacking frustration with Donald Trump. But it’s my relationship with a few Trump supporters whom I respect that helps me think that, if he’s the nominee, I might just be able to vote for him in November. (My guy lost last night so I’m still in recovery mode.)
God has made us social creatures and called us to community. That means listening to each other. Seeking to understand each other. Asking, “What do you mean by that?”
It also means following Jesus’ commands when we talk with people with whom we disagree. We love them. Even if we perceive they are our enemy. Even if they actually are our enemy.
We look at them as Jesus does, seeing his own image in their face and treating them with the dignity and respect his image deserves. Even if we condemn their behavior or lies.
This is a challenge. When we deeply disagree we want to turn on our heels and walk away. Or offer the social media equivalent of put downs, name calling or unfriending.
But when someone says, “I endorse Trump or Kasich or Cruz,” a Jesus-follower moves past our initial emotion-laden perception to show kindness. We extend grace. “Well, tell me why.” And we lean in to understand. Just maybe we will learn something.
At the very least, our respect for the person we’re listening to should help us see the candidate from their point of view. I have great respect for Dr. Ben Carson. Yesterday he gave a very candid interview to NewsMaxTV where he acknowledged that, “he backed Trump based on a practical calculus.
‘I didn’t see a path for [John] Kasich, who I like, or for [Marco] Rubio, who I like. As far as [Ted] Cruz is concerned, I don’t think he’s gonna be able to draw independents and Democrats unless has some kind of miraculous change… Is there another scenario that I would have preferred? Yes. But that scenario isn’t available.” Pressed to clarify, Carson said he meant he’d prefer to have backed one of the other candidates.
I haven’t said so on this blog as clearly as Dr. Carson, but frankly I agree with what he said about Kasich, Rubio and Cruz. So it helped me relax just a tiny bit about Trump.
I have other friends and former students who are all in for Donald Trump. As I have been willing to listen to them they have also helped me look at the election from their perspective and understand it more, condemn it less.
However, one thing that separates me from many of them is, I don’t think I feel as threatened as they do. So many people feel so fearful of enemies within and without—ISIS, radical Islamic terrorists, family breakdown, activist judges, illegal immigrants, corporate cronyism, greed, political correctness.
I share a measure of their concern but not their view that we face such terrible threats that we need a strongman avenger like Trump to fix it.
The threats are real. But for years we have had talk radio and cable news beating the drums of fear, exaggerating them. They embrace a strategy that says people are entertained by three things: pleasure, shock and fear–the recipe to grow audiences and ratings.
Just listen or watch for a stretch and attend to how the stories that are selected for broadcast focus on events that make for outrage at unfairness or violation of principles. Or simply shock. Can you believe that?! With the occasional entertaining stroke of titillation and humor for relief.
Do I listen or watch? Yes. But with a certain filter, realizing how some candidates and most news anchors and talk radio hosts tend to hype the fears and focus on the negative.
With Kasich and Rubio I share a more measured concern that looks to kinder, more thoughtful, statesmen and women and the mercies of God to steer our ship of State through the storms ahead.
The election moves on. Our house divided faces difficult decisions. In the final speech of his campaign Marco Rubio framed our challenge this way:
“The politics of resentment against other people will not just leave us a fractured party. They’re going to leave us a fractured nation. They’re going to leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other, because they have different political opinions.”
We tend to take for granted that America will somehow pull together and continue to prosper as a country. But history points to the very possible reality that we will not.
To this we are called:
…rather than walk away, lean in
…“strive for peace with everyone” (Heb 12:14)
…grab on to “the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble”
And finally…If God called his exiled people to pray for the welfare of Babylon, how much more should we pray fervently, without reservation for the welfare of America? “For in its welfare [we] will find [our] welfare.” United.