Many faith groups align politically, and for that reason, most board meetings, Sunday school classes, and other church gatherings typically become echo chambers. Since people more or less have the same political persuasions and are usually reading, watching, and listening to similar influences there isn’t room for a lot of disagreement. Many churches and this is especially true of United Methodist Churches, don’t enjoy this level of political homogeneity. Churches with political diversity can be difficult to navigate because it can be hard to worship, learn, and serve alongside people we feel are wrong about important political issues. Many of us see our political stances as matters of faith and belief. When this happens a person’s political opinion isn’t just something we disagree about, but it is seen as something that their opinion is morally wrong. It doesn’t take longs for these viewpoints to go from theoretical to very personal. Pretty soon it seems like we can’t be in community with a person that is so morally wrong.
So what do you do? What can a person do to worship, learn, and serve along with people who are so wrong!
- Realize that not everyone sees the world the way you do.
This seems pretty obvious, but I frequently find myself in conversations with persons who assume that I see the world precisely as they do. They make assumptions about my political beliefs, my religious beliefs that often are not true. I think there is a tendency to project our own viewpoints on people that we like or that we think are similar to us. A friend of mine who once taught Government to High School seniors told me that she attempted to keep her personal political beliefs to herself while teaching her students. On the final exam, she would ask students to describe their political identity and then give them a chance to guess her political identity. Nine times out of ten her students stated that their political identity matched hers.When politics comes up in conversation with church friends, don’t assume that others see the world exactly as you do. Avoid making sweeping statements about how wrong or right a particular political viewpoint is. Feel free to express what you believe, but leave room for others to express their beliefs as well. Use I statements like “I believe…” or “I think…” and avoid making declaratory statements that prevent others from saying what they think or believe.
- Leave Room that You Could be Wrong
History is littered with very opinionated people who felt very strongly they were right but turned out to be wrong from a viewpoint of history and time. Most of us have probably changed our minds about something over the years and could tell a story of how we once thought one way about things, but now think about things differently. There is a temptation to strain family relationships and friendships over our strongly held political views. When we leave room that we could be wrong, no matter how right we believe our viewpoints are, we can have grace for others and can prioritize friendship over our political convictions.
- Find places of Commonality.
If you have a relationship of trust with another person and you can talk about political topics with them without damaging the relationship you might try to find places of commonality. Persons might disagree about the cause of climate change, but both might want to find ways to have a cleaner planet. Maybe people differ on how best to improve our healthcare system but can agree on ways to care for those in our community who need help. Maybe there is a deep disagreement about abortion but can come together to help teen moms. Finding common ground like this, even in the midst of deep disagreement, we can find common causes to help make the world a better place.
- Try to see the other person’s viewpoint.
Try to see if you can get into the head of a person who seems “wrong” to you. Maybe you spend a week watching the news station you feel is wrong. Maybe you read publications that you typically wouldn’t read in order to try to see the way the other side is looking at the world. Many of our strongly held political opinions are emotional reactions to deeply held convictions and cultural understandings. We are good at finding facts and ways of thinking that back up these ideas to which we are so emotionally connected. We easily see the logical fallacies in others arguments but are pretty blind to where our own arguments break down. It’s unlikely your opinion will change after considering the other viewpoint seriously, however, the process of doing so will signal the care and respect you have for your family and friends who disagree with you.
- Realize Your Greatest Influence is Local
Most of our news sources look at things at the global or national level. Many of our local news sources are dwindling or can be overly sensational. The problem is that we spend a lot more time being informed and thinking about issues we have very little ability to do anything about (national and global issues) and are often gravely underinformed about things happening in our own back yard. We may have very strong opinions about gun violence but are not engaged in reducing gun violence in our own community. We may be concerned about environmental issues, but unaware of what is happening in our own rivers and streams.
- Beware of Your Use of Social Media
Many a friendship was lost or damaged due to things posted on social media. People are frequently unkind on social media, and it breaks my heart when I see followers of Jesus forget that they are also supposed to follow Jesus when posting on social media. There’s a popular meme that indicates that 0% of people’s minds are changed via social media. Of course, this isn’t true. Studies have shown that information and misinformation on social media has been very influential. For the most part, however, posts about politics and other controversial subjects tend to break down Christian community rather than build it up. The book of James warns us that the tongue can be a dangerous fire. This fire spreads even more quickly on social media. Before posting on social media ask yourself, is this going to build people up or possibly tear some people down?
- Get ready to forgive.
Jesus forgave you everything, so we must stand ready to forgive. Each week in some of our services we repeat the Lord’s prayer which says “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those trespass against us.” We ask God to forgive us as much as we forgive others. When it comes to living in Christian Community our default posture must be forgiveness.