One of the things I enjoy doing is following politics and public discourse. I think it’s important for all of us to stay in the loop on what is happening in the world and in American life. More than that, however, I think it’s important to engage in these things. But it’s an understatement to say that much of what happens in public discourse is less than pretty. Unfortunately, this often includes Christians.
The last several U.S. Presidential elections have revealed the division in our culture. The amount of true discussion and debate over the issues of greatest importance has taken a back seat to well-crafted one-liners delivered at just the right time for maximum rhetorical impact. A lot of time is spent talking past each other instead of listening to each other.
But this goes beyond politics. I have seen an increasing entrenchment in our views and a vilification of people with other views. When this is the case, we are not going to work together. How do we dialogue for the common good and with the goal of solutions? I don’t hear a lot of people talking about that.
Sure, Evangelicals have many problems with where culture is going, and rightly so. But we aren’t getting far with the culture in our discourse with them. Why? I think the answer is engagement. In my book, Subversive Kingdom, I argue that we shouldn’t be about control. Rather, we should be seeking to live as agents of the kingdom who are showing and sharing the love of Christ to a world that’s hurting. But how do we get to that place of engagement?
Let me list three simple and biblical ways to wisely engage with our neighbors and our culture, regardless of how difficult an issue may be.
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
First, love your neighbor as yourself. As many of us have heard this preached or taught it ourselves, to love our neighbor is to see him or her as God does and to care for him or her as God would have us.
While we can, and should, describe love as more than feelings (which I’ll do below), I want to focus here on that feeling of love—to truly feel love for our neighbor. Love means we see people as creatures made in God’s image.
If you want to cultivate a heart that loves your neighbor, know your own heart better. Once we begin to seek to understand our own hearts, we will realize that we (not those with whom we are dialoguing) are the chief of sinners. Realizing this will break us, humble us, and open our eyes to see people as we’ve never seen them. That, in turn, will enable us to love them as we’ve never loved them. This leads to my next point.
Practice the Golden Rule
Second, love leads us to practice the Golden Rule: “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them” (Matt. 7:12). It’s unfortunate that one of the most practical and powerful teachings in scripture and from the lips of the Savior is often too quickly said and too rarely practiced. When love for neighbor is genuine and deeply felt, it changes not only what we feel for others, but also how we treat others.
The Bible includes many passages that illustrate what treating others as we want to be treated looks like. We are to consider others as more important and to look out for their interests (Phil. 2:3-4). We are to bear others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2). What if we looked at those with whom we disagree through the eyes called to bear burdens? What if we were more concerned for them than ourselves?
If we are honest, we want to be understood and be listened to. Unfortunately, too often we don’t remember that others may feel the same. They, too, are just looking for affirmation and a listening ear.
Without love, we are just clanging cymbals (1 Cor. 13:1) in the public sphere or in our coffee shop conversations. Love is the fuel for disagreeing without being disagreeable. Love elevates our dialogue and seeks the greatest good.
My goal when I critique someone else’s position is that he or she would say that I have articulated his or her position correctly even though we disagree on the position itself. Without love, people and arguments are demoted to caricatures.
Be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak, and Slow to Anger
Finally, we need to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). Following these words, James explains that our anger doesn’t accomplish God’s righteousness. This may be one of the best ways to explain what the Golden Rule looks like in an actual conversation.
As we engage with those who have different perspectives and opinions, we should focus on listening. Too often, we ‘engage’ by preparing our responses while others are still laying out their case. We can do better by listening well.
It not only makes us respond better, but it shows that we respect the person with whom we are dialoguing. We speak best when we know what someone says, what we are saying, and how we should say it. Good listening leads to good understanding, and good understanding leads to good and accurate responses.
Then, when the person responds, we refuse to get easily angered and offended. We keep focused on the discourse and not the attacks.
True Christian Discourse
Christian leaders must teach the values of civil public discourse. Before we expect it from others, we must model the path. This starts with obeying the Great Commandment to love your neighbor and following the Golden Rule. It makes us better listeners, wise as to when and how to use our words, and not easily offended or angered.
More than a good zinger or a clever quip to try to win an argument, we should desire real discourse for the good of the causes we believe in and for the good of the world that we care to convince.