“Who’s your candidate?” A Facebook friend asked me last week.
“Only God and the angels know,” I responded.
Truly, only God and celestial beings saw the boxes I colored in, with a black marker, inside a cardboard voting booth. Not even my husband knows. And I’m keeping it that way though anyone who follows me on social media might figure it out.
In our polarized world that rarely practices the discipline of listening—for the sake of mutual understanding—I’m keeping the hard choices of my soul private.
This doesn’t mean I believe politics should be private. It’s just that spilling my thoughts, feelings, and political opinions to everyone has never gone well.
I pause because it’s hard to have healthy discussions. Others react, and I’m tempted to react. These days, it seems the whole world has forgotten that jamming opinions down others’ throats—religious, political and otherwise—does nothing to win friends or influence people.
Given the volatility of our social and political landscape, it’s risky to share our perspectives. So many of us long to do so in safe spaces. Despite political differences, I’m sure we can agree that painful confrontations never better the world.
I don’t claim to have this figured out; heaven knows the areas I have yet to grow. In the wake of the recent election, I believe that listening is more important than ever. Oftentimes, there are better ways of discussing volatile subjects. In the midst of our differences, it’s important to step back and remember what we have in common with brothers and sisters who have different political leanings. With this in mind, I offer five suggestions for relating to those who have voted differently:
1. Healthy conversations require listening without an agenda to change others.
The discipline of listening is hard to come by. The best listeners keep an open mind, putting themselves in others’ shoes. Rather than making assumptions, they ask thoughtful questions and make sure they “get” what others mean. Never suggesting “quick fixes,” they validate and empathize with what others perceive, think, and feel.
Good listeners don’t interrupt, interrogate, change the subject, or offer platitudes such as: “It’s not the end of the world” or “God is still on his throne.” Patiently, they open the way for others to speak before expressing their own perspectives (hopefully reciprocated).
2. Speak kindly without pressuring others to see things your way.
Whether we are speaking to believers or unbelievers, God wants our conversations to be gracious:
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)
Setting aside distractions, such as cell phones and social media, we give others our full attention. We do our best to remember what they say. We pay attention to cues that they might be uncomfortable (crossed legs, worried expressions, etc.). We don’t compose rebuttals in our minds as they speak.
Listening doesn’t require changing our minds. Understanding doesn’t necessarily entail agreement. Even if neither party budges, a gracious conversation honors God. Respectful discussions always benefit those who want to grow in wisdom and goodness.
3) When conversations become heated, it’s time for a break.
Conflict resolution experts suggest taking deep breaths. Adrenaline running through our bodies, whether we know it or not, causes us to think less clearly, impairing our ability to relate well to others. Sometimes it’s necessary to walk away until calming down. The writer of Proverbs reminds us of the importance of controlling our tongues and remaining calm:
“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. (Prov. 17:27)
4) Arguing does not win friends or change others’ minds.
A seminary professor once cautioned my class not to cross lines during theological, philosophical, and political debates. It’s less than wise to argue with people who don’t want to listen to those who see the world differently.
Scripture reminds us that handing out pearls to some who don’t value pearls is a bad idea:
“Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” (Matthew 7:6b)
I doubt any of us can think of a time we changed our minds after someone interrupted, interrogated, or attacked us. Probably none of us have ever argued another person to embrace our point of view. It’s always a good idea to keep an open mind about what we might learn from those we disagree with.
5) Be the church no matter what political party you voted for.
Like Jesus, sometimes it’s best to shake the dust from our feet and move on:
“Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16b)
When others fail to listen, God sees. We have no reason to fear:
“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Matthew 10:26)
The election of one person or another doesn’t change our identity and calling in Christ. Whether we voted for a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, our ultimate hope is not in any human political system. Knowing this world is not our truest home, we can agree that living in Jesus promises to usher the greatest realm into our midst. Listening and obeying our Creator, above all, promises to the save the world.
Setting aside our political differences, in light of who we are in Christ, may we get to the business of being the church. May we ramp up our prayers, ministry, and practical support of widows, orphans, immigrants, refugees, and every other marginalized person in our nation. Leaning into the Spirit, we can be sure that God will recreate our broken, needy, and desperate world more than any US elected official could.