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Put Politics in its Place

Grace-filled Political Conversations – Practice #3

By Jon Buyle

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/   


According to the authors of I Think You’re Wrong (but I’m Listening), before we can begin trying out grace-filled political conversations in the wild, we have some self-work to do: Step one was to Take Off Your Jersey — that is to let go of our blind loyalties to our political teams or politicians and embrace complexity and nuance. Freed to think for ourselves, their second step, was to Find Your Why by exploring and discovering our core values that direct our lives and guide our true opinions.

Step three is the subject of this blog article, which is to put politics in its place!

Do you find that political conversation is worth the risk or is it too threatening? Do you just decide to avoid it? The authors believe it is not only worth the risk, but necessary to participate in openhearted political dialogue.

Why is it so hard? We treat politics and government as both the sole cause of our problems and the sole solution. Government has become the only institution to should every problem. That’s in part because other institutions have suffered after decades of societal change. Some examples:

  • Education – Only ¼ of those polled give high marks to public schools.
  • Churches – In 1973, organized religion ranked as the most respected institution in America. 43% said they had a great deal of confidence in the church. Today it is only 20%
  • National media – In 2016, trust in the media dropped to historic lows at only 32%.

As a result of eroding institutions, we have made politics the most significant force at play in solving problems as either the central cause or singular solution. Every issue becomes existential, resulting in political paralysis. But politics is just one of many forces. Each of us has a role to play and can exert influence in our companies, churches and schools.

So what do we do? The authors have several recommendations:

  • Keep politics in perspective. Politics is not unimportant, but not the answer to every private concern, every religious debate, or every problem in our family or lives.
  • Values should be represented in our politics, but politics should not be the greatest manifestation of our values.
  • We CAN connect through shared values despite political differences, which can lead to healthy conversations.
  • Stand firmly in identities rooted in a humanity and worth beyond the reach of politics.
  • Politics cannot be the sole source of our confidence, happiness or self-worth. That can happen if you are a news junkie and watch cable news all day.
  • Politics should not replace judgement, logic or evaluation of how things work. Issues are not predestined and can be changed.
  • Don’t define yourself by your politics. If you do, you won’t want to talk with anyone who disagrees with you.
  • Recognize that issues are a complex interplay of personal, structural, cultural and legislative forces. Government is an important part of solutions, but not the totality of solutions. We often give politics an outsized importance. Every law or SCOTUS decision will not lead to utopia or dystopia.
  • More good can come out of expressing our values through private action than through public debate. The best results come from blending public and private responses, such as in national tragedies like hurricanes and wildfires.
  • Practice seeing others as neighbors, not walking opinions or ideologies.
  • Keep centered on community service rather than conflict and politics.
  • Politics should take a back seat to the care we demonstrate for one another.

The authors emphasize their “ethos”. “Some people are in trouble and other people have the tools to help them. Why wouldn’t they?” Imagine how it would be like if we kept that ethos running through our public discourse. Some people are in trouble, and WE have the tools to help them. Imagine seeing yourself as a critical resource to our “neighbors” who are in trouble. Politics should not be a vehicle to escape our responsibilities. Ask yourself, “How can I personally be of service to my neighbor? What can I do with my two hands and with the gifts I have been given?

And what about the election? What to do? Elections are important, but not the beginning or end of the American experiment. “There will be a Wednesday!” Elections, political ideas, and affiliation are only pieces of a much larger, richer puzzle. Things to remember:

  • America is bigger than one election.
  • America is more than its president, control of congress, and its judiciary.
  • We can ask questions without issuing condemnations.
  • We can seek greater accountability without criminalizing that with which we disagree.
  • People are complicated. People are more than their choice of candidates or ideologies, and believe things for reasons we might not fully understand.
  • We can be the change we want to see in the world and that’s true no matter who wins.

“Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack or understanding of politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic”

Continue the Conversation

  1. Think about an election that was important to you. How did you feel when your candidate won or lost. Did the results have the impact you predicted? How did the results lead you to act?
  2. In what ways do you see neighbors in trouble? What talents, resources, or abilities do you have to be of service to them? As you answer, consider the parts of your answer that involve political participation and the parts that do not.
  3. Think about a politician with whom you disagree. Can you think of one or more things they have done that you can approve of? Does that help you have a more meaningful conversation with others who support the candidate you oppose
  4. Are you prepared for the results of our next election? Do you have a plan to remain positive and purposeful no matter the results?