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Grace-filled Political Conversations – Practice #1
By the Rev. Chris Harris
During this election season, our 10 AM Sunday Adult Forum is taking on the topic of how we can bring grace to our political conversations. How can we as Christians, bring humility, forgiveness and even reconciliation to the one area of our lives that seems the most broken. Join us as we explore 8 practices that with God’s help, can transform our political conversations into something that might actually bring us closer together, rather than drive us apart. For more info, or to watch past of future installments: https://christchurchcranbrook.org/grace/
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
– Galatians 3:28
Practice 1: Take off your Jersey
In the book, “I Think You’re Wrong (but I’m Listening) – A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations,” the authors, a Republican and a Democrat, suggest that the first thing we need to do in order to bring grace and healing to our political conversations, is to “take off our jersey.” By that they mean, we need to put down the talking points and let go of blind allegiances to “the party line” or unquestioning loyalty to a particular politician, so that we can bring our own values to the conversation, and become be open to the complexity and nuance that is inherent in virtually every issue we face.
Their argument is that we have allowed politics to turn into a team sport and as we all know, in sports its winner takes all; there is no compromise, there is no listening to the other side, there is no negotiation, it’s either win or lose. Just look at the sports metaphors that pervade our election coverage: This election is a horserace, but the incumbent is the clear front runner. The debate didn’t have any, knockout punches, but the challenger put points on the board. The surprise announcement was seen as a last minute, hail Mary, but recent polls say it failed to move the ball down the field. The incumbent is still hoping for a game changer, because it would make November 4th a slam dunk.
You get the idea.
The problem our authors point out, is that turning politics into a team sport places means compromise is out of the question. It’s now win or lose. When political leaders cut deals with the other team or become known for an “independent streak,” they invite condemnation by the team and threats of being “primaried.” As a result, “liberal Republicans” and “conservative Democrats” are now a distant memory, and compromise, often seen as a dirty word. With team loyalty being so paramount, we insist that candidates are pre-decided on every issue, and anyone who changes their position due to new facts or new circumstances, risks being branded a “flip-flopper” or “weak” by both sides.
At least in sports there’s an off season, when the hardcore fans can take a break and get back to normal life. In fact, they may even see some of their favorite players traded to other teams! But in politics, it’s a 24-7, 365 days a year season. There was once a time when presidents saw themselves in either “governing mode” or “campaign mode” – that too is a distant memory as the fundraising and the campaigning never ends.
Team loyalty makes political conversations boring and predictable
The authors argue that the team sports mentality has made our conversations about politics with our friends and family, both predictable and boring, not to mention very likely to turn into a shouting match, as if we were fans of the opposing team sitting on the wrong end of the field. They use the welfare debate as an example: As a conservative and a liberal, their team jerseys pre-scripted their positions: Welfare is either a vital social safety net for poverty stricken families or a well-intended but failed program, that disincentivizes work and inadvertently traps people in poverty and hopelessness. Rather than have a predictable debate on those two diametrically opposing positions, the authors decided to “take off their jerseys” and go beyond the talking points they knew so well. They researched the history and the reality of welfare in America today and in the process, discovered that many of their assumptions were wrong, and they had a lot more in common than they thought. While they still disagreed about some of the details of their solutions, they found a huge amount of agreement on ways they thought the welfare system could be improved that were still aligned with their values. The subsequent conversation was enlightening and surprising, and could never have happened without their willingness to let go of their loyalties to the talking points, and take the time to dig into the issue themselves, and listen to one another with an open mind.
What other examples can you think of? On the topic of climate change, the team jerseys tell us that its either a scientifically proven, clear and present threat to our planet or it’s a hoax, and measures to curtail greenhouse gasses will only harm our economy and put people out of work. Could it be that there is complexity and nuance to both positions, that there might be some areas of agreement within them, and thus opportunity for compromise? Does the abortion debate have to be limited either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” or is there complexity and nuance to the issue when you get into the details, that those with differing values, can still come together to find ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies? Does it have to be a choice between “Black Lives Matter” or “Love and Respect our Police?” Does taking action to root out systemic racism in law enforcement mean vilifying all policemen and women? Does it have to be a choice between one or the other? Our binary team jerseys tell us it does because in sports its win/lose, winner take all. The point the authors are making is that until we are able to go beyond the talking points, many of us will never dig into the topic with an open mind, and an open heart. In their experience, the authors have found that doing so has not only made their conversations fun and interesting again — but had made their relationship stronger.
Taking off our jerseys, does NOT mean taking off our values
Keep in mind as you ponder this first practice, the authors are not suggesting that any of us let go of our values in the name of compromise. Quite the contrary, in their view, taking off the jersey, means freeing yourself to let your values take the front seat in guiding our opinions, rather than loyalty to the team. The goal isn’t to come to a mutual agreement on every issue. The goal is to be guided by our values, and the bet is, that we have enough values in common, that we can find a way forward, and out of gridlock. If nothing else, we will have learned a bit more about why the other side feels as they do and the values they are lifting up, and in the process, see them less as the enemy and more as a fellow child of God.
The first step in taking off your jersey is to first notice when you are wearing one. During the forum, we talked about times when we find ourselves defending the indefensible because they are a member of the team or is the person I voted for. If you find yourself defending a position contrary to your values – that’s a sign you’re likely wearing a team jersey! Similarly, if you find yourself unwilling to agree or even meet halfway, on something that is in alignment with your values, because it’s being promoted by a politician you voted against , you’re probably wearing a jersey.