Meaningful conversations and faith on the road to Election Day

My latest for the Longview News Journal.

In a little less than 600 days, Americans will return to the voting booth for another presidential election.

Think about that: 600 days.

We are traveling down a long road many of us remember in 2016 as being ugly, rude, contentious and rhetoric-filled. It makes me wonder: Can we handle another stress-filled election? Will America be even more divided by November 2020?

Already, nearly two dozen candidates have tossed their hats into the ring for nomination by the major political parties. And already, name-calling and smear campaigns are beginning and social media debates are popping up over issues more nuanced than most arguments acknowledge.

Maybe we simply are not ready to have meaningful conversations about policy. So we find ourselves slinging one-liners and memes at others in an effort to prove we’re “right,” to feel superior.

It already feels like it is going to be a long “election” season.

I know this isn’t anything new, but it has become more mainstream. On top of that, many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking we are somehow immune to such behavior; we would never stoop so low as to call adherents to a particular political value demeaning or derogatory names. We would never condense deeply complex issues to 240 characters and an emoji. Would we? I have to admit I do these things from time to time; I struggle not to lash out at those who disagree with me on a variety of issues.

As a follower of Christ, I am called every day to live out my faith in a meaningful and tangible way. Theology of the head is pointless unless it produces faith of the heart. Theologian Paul Tillich once wrote, “There is no faith without participation.” This comes, however, at a great price.

As people of faith, we must examine our beliefs and practices from time to time. Blind allegiance to a belief system is dangerous. There will be times in our walk of faith that go against something else in our world. Maybe it is a political stance or even a previously held theological position. Growing and changing in the faith is a good and natural thing. No one believes the same things they did one, five, seven, or 10 or more years ago.

There is a war of wills happening within people’s hearts. People are finding themselves asking if they can really go against previously held beliefs for the sake of the faith. What will my friends think? More importantly, what will God think? What will my church think, my pastor think? If we are acting out of trying to be right and not trying to live out a position of faith, we have missed the mark.

Before Election Day 2020 comes, conversations about important issue need to take place. These conversations should not be limited to social media platforms where we can hide behind a screen name and block or unfriend someone if they disagree with us. We need to have these conversations face to face. The goal is not to change someone’s mind about how their voting stance is wrong; this is the task of learning, of growing and trying to understand.

Learning from others, hearing different viewpoints, helps us understand their  position. Having conversations face to face over lunch or coffee humanizes the other person. Instead of them being a caricature of a political party or idea, they can now be seen as a child of God. This recognition changes the entire framing of the conversation. Instead of being reduced to words on a screen, they are now a human made in the very same image of God, as are we all.

Churches can play a vital role in these conversations. If a church is not the place to ask meaningful questions about how faith can be enacted in the world, then what good is it?

There are many different ways to see an issue and no one has a firm grasp on all of it. On top of that, many people are acting out their faith through their political understandings. How people arrive at those decisions helps us understand the things they deem as important and meaningful.

Between now and November 2020, let’s try to get to know our neighbors, our co-workers, those we go to church with in a better way. I am sure there are people in your social spheres who believe differently than you do. Do not see this as a negative. Rather, see it as opportunity to grow and be pushed to think differently.

If you consume news from one news source alone try to mix it up a bit. Read with an open mind and maybe you will see there is more common ground than you thought.

Sound too simplistic? Maybe. But if we don’t find a way to have meaningful conversations without tearing each other down, it is going to be a long road to Election Day.

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