My “group” spans the full spectrum on politics, science, social issues, COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccinations. I actively dislike the terms “right” and “left” but will use them—because they are useful. Some of my friends seem almost as far right as you can go and others as far left and it began well before COVID. We love each other and spend time together as allowed but it has been a challenge and we’ve learned and re-learned a few things that may be worth sharing.
The first thing I’ve personally learned and it continues to leave me shaking my head, is that everyone in this group is intelligent, informed and thoughtful and yet we are poles apart. Furthermore, though we have discussed the issues, sometimes respectfully and sometimes in anger and frustration, nobody has substantially changed their views. At the same time, nor are we quite set in stone. Everybody has shifted a little or at least gained a bit of perspective and understanding about why others think what they do. What I suspect is true, but is untested, is that if we were in an on-the-ground situation which some of our theoretical arguments address, we would actually react much more similarly than our arguments would suggest.
The second thing I’ve noted is that nobody fits neatly in the boxes we associate with the positions. One friend is quite far on the right yet is convinced, with plenty of theology and experience behind it, that women should be pastors. Not, just allowed to be pastors, but that the church needs them to be. Another person I know on the right is the most respectful, authentic and natural person I know in intercultural relationships. On the left, my friends are against abortion and are nearly as frustrated with COVID masks as everyone else. One frequently expresses amusement mixed with annoyance at the inconsistency in government regulations, and all of them are deeply troubled that regulations stand in the way of people being with their sick and dying family members. Nobody is quite what you’d expect.
We’ve all learned along the way, that sometimes you need to walk away when things start heating up because there is nothing to be gained and plenty to be lost in pursuing a particular argument. We’ve also learned that you sometimes need to engage when you’d really rather leave, because to walk away would be an expression of arrogance and self-righteousness and these would be just as damaging. We have reached an unspoken agreement in some quarters to avoid certain topics and engage cautiously with others, and we’ve learned how to extricate ourselves from a hot topic discussion we’ve accidently wandered into.
We’ve learned that an angry and aggressive stand will have the opposite effect of what we want, usually entrenching the other person even more deeply in an opposing view. But we’ve also learned that being able to maintain good self-control may not actually mean we’re a more self-controlled person, but rather that we think we have the high ground and can afford to be smug.
None of us, it turns out, are free of sin.
We’ve learned that it’s very hard to do, but we’ve had to employ questions if we wanted to keep things respectful. We’ve learned to say variations of “I don’t understand why that would be the case – can you explain what you mean?” and “That’s very different from what I’ve heard, what have you heard?” Even harder has been admitting that someone we are in almost complete disagreement with may have gotten something right, or that we or someone we respect is wrong and has made a bad decision. It has helped us to recognize that almost every situation is more complex than the polarized views around us make them seem.
We’ve learned that to hold on to our relationships there are two critical components. One that we all knew but for a time was increasingly difficult to focus on was finding common ground. One particularly important piece of common ground that is a distinct advantage of Christians was our faith, love for Christ and commitment to his mission in the world. All of us, regardless of where we land on the issues of the day, pray sincerely that “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And for all of us, loving others was both a biblical imperative and something we genuinely wanted to do. Sometimes we’ve been able to recognize that neither a right or left-wing approach can solve a particular human problem and we should be talking about what the church can do that no government or scientist can. Or we’ve recognized that nobody, church included, can resolve something and we need to trust God with this.
The other critical component we’ve learned is that regardless of what else is going on, whenever we had opportunity to say or do something good for each other we needed to act on it. More than that, we needed to go out of our way to express love in our words or by some action as appropriate.
Not every position is equally correct, not every piece of information we trust is accurate, and not everybody is acting like Christ in every situation, but we continue to aim for that.
So far, so good.