Rules of Engagement: Glorifying God in Political Conversation
It’s happening again. Do you feel it? The waters that had finally calmed, allowing hurt feelings to heal and disillusionment to sprout new hope, are rippling once again, churning, in some places.
Political unrest and controversy never let up, of course, but it seemed to me, after the last presidential election, most of us agreed to an unspoken truce on some level, if for no other reason than because we ourselves needed to convalesce. Well, we must be all better now because harsh tones, biting words, and judgmental assumptions are whizzing past again from every direction like poison darts.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got friends and loved ones out there on both sides of many issues currently being discussed, and I don’t want any of them to get hurt. Or lost. I can’t protect them on my own, of course, but I can offer advice to my brothers and sisters who feel compelled to stand up and speak out.
If that’s you, please…
Spend at least as much time letting God examine your heart as you spend examining the behavior of others. We are poor judges of our own character (1 Cor. 4:4). Because you’ll be stepping out with God’s name on, let Him do the inspecting.
Think before you speak. Emotions can muddy thinking. Rush in to a conversation, and you’ll probably owe someone an apology before it’s all over (Prov. 19:2). The rule of thumb in our house is 24 hours if you have the option of waiting that long.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. The burden of clarity is on the speaker, not the audience. If you don’t want to be misunderstood, make it impossible by choosing your words carefully and telling people what you don’t mean as well as what you do mean.
Make sure you know the meaning of a word before you use it in a sentence. If the word is nuanced, clarify your intended meaning. Likewise, confirm a speaker’s intended meaning before offering a different perspective. Doing so helps keep conversation on track and prevents unnecessary conflict.
Say as little as necessary to get your point across. Remember, “when words are many, sin is not absent” (Prov. 10:19).
Let facts speak for themselves. Actual facts from credible sources. This will require some research on your part, but you could save yourself embarrassment. Your opinion matters, but everyone has an opinion. If yours isn’t based on truth, it will be dismissed.
Remember your audience. The person to whom you are speaking is a living, breathing, feeling, thinking, wanting, needing human being with major flaws, just like you. Treat them how you want to be treated even when they don’t reciprocate (Luke 6:31). Their friends and loved ones—who are also listening—will not only appreciate your efforts, but respect you for them even if they aren’t in a position to say so.
Examine your motives. If your goal is to make yourself look good, intimidate, shame, humiliate, confuse, or stir up dissention, you are not in step with the Father, whose ultimate goal in all things is His glory, not yours (Isa. 48:11). Wait to post until you are.
Exercise discernment. Don’t believe and/or pass on everything that matches your mood. Check facts, verify “biblical” content, listen for tone, scrutinize word choice, and examine motives. If you wouldn’t have written it yourself, don’t let it speak for you (Rom. 14:22).
Be patient. Remember that irrational, sweeping, and/or biased comments usually come from a place of ignorance and/or fear. Responding in like-kind will only confirm the speaker’s bias, stoke their fear, and make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to share information that could have changed or eased their mind.
Give people the benefit of the doubt. Wait for individuals to show you their worst before you believe it. Categorizing people by age, gender, religion, nationality, party, etc. may prove useful when attempting to provide for general needs, but it should never be used to analyze or assume the content of individual hearts. Like snowflakes, no two of us are exactly the same.
Ask objective questions. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover a particular speaker’s perspective is not what it originally seemed, but if it is and your goal is to persuade, you’ll find questioning to be a much more effective technique than debate. While counterpoints invite counterpoints, questions encourage introspection and the reevaluation of personal thought. Furthermore, people who feel heard are more likely to listen.
Forgive. Limited in our perspective, knowledge, and wisdom (1 Cor. 13:9, Phil. 1:6), we’re just kids running around with sharp knives, really. All of us. The only way we’ll ever come out on the other side of this season healthy, whole, and still loving each other is to forgive one another in real time, to believe and act as if those around us don’t owe us anything for the wrong they’ve done to us because they really don’t. Sin is anything that goes against God’s will and nature, not ours. It’s between us and Him, not us and them (Ps. 51:4).
Don’t put words in others’ mouths. This includes God. Everything He had to say to us, He inspired men to record in the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and He isn’t a fan of people taking creative license with His Word. Add to and/or take away from it at your own risk (Rev. 22:19)!
Don’t make political jokes. Political jokes are particularly divisive as they often require the jokester to overgeneralize ideas and events, make unfounded assertions about individuals and/or people groups at their expense, draw an “us” versus “them” line in the sand, and/or make light of what others take very seriously. They reek of ignorance and arrogance.
Don’t burn bridges. Like anything else God gives us, the relationships in our lives are gifts meant to be returned to Him in worship, tools for the advancement of His Kingdom for His glory through the spread of the Gospel, not gadgets for our own comfort, amusement, or convenience. The burden of Truth our relationships must bear is weighty; insofar as it is up to you, preserve and keep them (Rom. 12:18).
Well, that’s my two cents. May God use it for good.
Listen, friends, in a matter of months, we will elect a President. Some of us will celebrate and some of us will mourn, just like last time, but we’ll all deal with what we’ve got. Much could change, yes, but people will still need Jesus. This being true, whom we elect in 2020 isn’t nearly as important as whom we glorify in the process.
Please—I beg you—be wise!