I’m not sure when it happened. I’m pretty sure I know why it happened, but here we are. We find ourselves in a political climate where it is more appropriate to name call than it is to debate and where attack ads are more influential on our votes than actual facts.
This is a tough time to be a pastor. It’s tough to address some of what is going on in our nation’s politics, and yet I can’t help but to feel like I should.
Yesterday, in Charlotte, a group of United Methodist ministers from around the area gathered for lunch and for conversation. We didn’t talk about politics. And by that I mean no one stood up and argued for one candidate over another. Rather we discussed what it means to shepherd our congregations during a time when dividing and name calling has become our newest pastime.
Several pastors recalled memories of parents or grandparents that would have pictures of the president hanging on their walls. They would pray for “their” president everyday. Regardless of the party affiliation. When the next election cycle rolled through they would change that picture on their wall. This president might represent a different party, but that wouldn’t matter. It would still be “their” president, and they would still pray for them everyday. Where have those days gone?
Rev. James Howell, of Myers Park United Methodist Church, says that we as citizens are the ones that should take the blame for what is wrong with our current political state. We respond to negative ads, so candidates run more negative ads. We respond to attacks and name calling, so candidates do more attacking and name calling. We get upset because congress won’t compromise, yet when our officials do compromise we call them weak and vote in a “stronger” representative who won’t budge an inch. We’ve made the mess, Rev. Howell says, now how do we fix it?
A few weeks ago I talked about how everything in life boils down to a decision between fear and love. For some reason when it comes to politics we have let fear takeover as our dominate trait. I’m not just talking about fear of the other, or fear of those that we don’t know or understand. I’m talking about our fear of being open to change, and maybe our biggest fear, our fear of being wrong. We have become so afraid of an opinion different than our own that we feel the need to attack the person who disagrees with us.
I’m not sure I have all the answers to these questions, but I do believe that there are a few places we can start in order to make a difference.
-The first is of course with God. God should be the first place we go, the first place we look when it comes to these issues of argument. That doesn’t mean co-opting God for your own opinions. It doesn’t mean using God to argue your particular point of view. (To be honest I don’t think God is a democrat or a republican.) What it does mean is acting out of the love that was shown to us through Jesus Christ. And most importantly it means realizing that no matter what happens on November 8th, when we wake up on November 9th, God will still be God, and God’s Kingdom will still be breaking forth into our world. Not one single political candidate running for office is going to usher in the Kingdom of God. God will do that, regardless of who gets elected.
-The second is through being in relationships with one another. There is nothing more toxic than shutting oneself off to the thoughts and ideas of others. We, for some reason, think that everything in life is black and white, left or right, liberal or conservative. The truth of the matter is that when we are in relationship with others, especially those who have differing opinions, we come to see that the world is full of a lot more gray. Each of us is God’s beautiful and wonderful creation. What would it look like if we treated one another as such?
-And the last thing we can do is to stop fearing compromise. The idea of compromise has for some reason become a sign of weakness instead of strength, and yet in my life compromise always seems to make things stronger. I do it in my marriage and friendships, without it I would be alone. The business world does it all the time, it’s how companies thrive. Compromise always seems to strengthen not weaken. We must learn to stop fearing compromise.
Are these the answers? I don’t know, but I think they are a good place to start.