Has anybody noticed that the quality of political conversation has gotten pretty bad? Actually, that’s an understatement. Maybe we should simply recognize that it has gotten really difficult for people who disagree to talk with each other. So most people just don’t. They watch the news channel they like best. They hang around with others who think like them. And so, it’s easy to either: block out a person we disagree with, or simply ignore them.
But is that the way it should be? Shouldn’t we who are Jesus followers be different? Shouldn’t we be able to hear from, and interact with, those who see things completely differently than we do?
Clearly, living in our Christian bubble isn’t the answer. So, what can we do?
Let me make four suggestions:
- Listen. It’s amazing the difference truly listening to someone can make. It shows openness, grace, hospitality. Listening might be a doorway to seeing something through another person’s eyes. It does not mean you have to agree with the person. In fact, listening might only confirm your beliefs. But listening shows that the other person is first: a person – not an issue, or an opponent, or even an enemy. And listening is the first step in receiving them, not as an issue, but as a person made in the image of God.
- Learn. True listening isn’t just sitting silently until it’s your turn to speak. It is really seeking to understand the other person, who they are, what they’ve experienced, and why they believe and feel what they believe and feel. My guess is that there is hardly a person out there that I can’t learn from – but I have to be willing to actually hear them, and what they say. Again, learning is not the same as agreement. Listening does not lead to uniformity; but it does lead to understanding.
- Love. And listening leads to love. In fact, listening is love. The more I open myself to another person, the more opportunity I have to show them the love that Jesus showed everyone. Here’s the thing: it’s very hard to love people while yelling at them, or dismissing them, or ignoring them, or recounting how stupid they are. Love meets people where they are, with grace and truth. It’s what Jesus did, so it’s probably a good approach for us, too.
- Lead. Finally, if we are able to do the first 3 “Ls” – we can then get to the fourth. Now, it’s not a formula, nor is it a checklist. We don’t say: Ok, I’ve listened to you for 10 minutes; I’ve learned something new; I’ve expressed the fact that I care about you – Now, let me show you where you’re wrong! Truly leading someone is not like that. Instead, when we do the first three, naturally and sincerely, it then opens the door to providing leadership. When you truly have a listening/learning/loving posture, then the opportunity to guide the person into a new way of looking at things – well, then, that becomes possible.
Anybody think it makes more sense to yell, or ignore, or caricature others – than to love? If so, good luck with that. You might feel better about yourself and your beliefs, but real relationships and real change doesn’t happen when we adopt the ways of the world. So, as followers of Jesus, let’s make sure we are living a different way. One that listens with a learning posture. One that loves, no matter what. And one that allows this to open doors to leading others to a new way of thinking.
In the midst of a toxic political culture, we’ve got find a different way forward. In fact, this approach doesn’t just work in the world. It might work rather nicely in church, too.