A Path Back to Civility with Family and Friends
I have never had to be so careful conversing with fellow Christians in my life. While I’m deeply concerned about our divided nation, I only have to look at the strong opinions, often expressed in frustration, even anger by people in my church and other Christians with whom I meet, to see the problem. And I’m not implying only they have the problem, and I don’t.
However, for sure we are operating in alternative realities, relying on different sources for our political, legal and medical views. And it’s no longer, “Well I think this is what’s happening” and we all weight in and have a gentle disagreement and move on to other topics. Our conversations and those of many others with whom I’ve spoken, can quickly grow tense and feel more like, “I can’t believe you actually believe that!” There’s a disbelief that we’re apparently blind to what’s going on and need to wise up fast. (True confession – I’ve had the same thoughts myself, so I’m writing this blog for me as well.)
So, how should mature Christians address this very real problem, to get back to stressless conversations again. Here is what I believe is the hierarchy of loyalties for followers of Jesus, that ought to govern our lives;
We are citizens of the Kingdom of God – the Bible and Christian virtues must govern how we conduct ourselves.
We are members of the community of believers, family, friends and the church – the law of love and unity are to reign supreme.
We are citizens of the U.S. so we’ve agreed to live under the Constitution.
We are Republicans, Democrats, Independents or some other party.
However, it appears to me that in the last few years, or maybe only just in 2020, with Covid and the election, that the hierarchy of allegiances has been inverted. Politics, opinions and passions over masking, shutdowns and vaccinations have driven us from behaving less like Jesus, in our disagreements, to behaving more like the world. I hear more quotes, read more strong opinions on FaceBook posts, and get more videos sent to me from ”news sources” and social media, than from scripture. They sound more like the talking heads on CNN, or Fox News, than thoughtful, kind ambassadors of Christ. Blessed are the peacemakers is still Jesus’ desire.
David Brooks, a Christian and a columnist, puts it this way, “Once politics becomes your moral identity, it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise is seen as dishonor. Many Christians have moved from being in community, to being in a tribe. Community gathers around love, respect and a common purpose. Us. Tribalism gathers around a mutual foe. Them!”
So, what’s the antidote?
1. Before you meet with your friends next, please consider this verse and pray for wisdom to make it true as best as you are able.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
2. When you meet and the conversation moves to topics that the Holy Spirit signals you, could become heated, consider addressing the potential problem this way. “I know we have different ideas on politics, masks, vaccines (whatever). I doubt we’ll ever convince each other of our positions. And I no longer even want to try. Our nation is divided, but we shouldn’t be. I value our friendship and love for God more than any other issue. So, I’d like to suggest we stick to how we can just enjoy the gift of friendship and cheer each other on as followers of Jesus. Does that work?”
I’ve used that idea several times in the last few weeks, and it softens the conversation almost instantly. Most Christians know things have gone crazy and I think welcome a return to civility and respect. The Holy Spirit actually requires it. He expect us to act like followers of Jesus, and not some other tribe. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness kindness, humility, gentleness and patiece. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
3. If the conversation still goes off track, just ask the Holy Spirit how you can change the subject to something more true, noble and right. But even if you can’t, you take the high road and resist the urge to respond in kind and argue. ”My brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
Take the long view of life. Our political differences and Covid will pass, but friendships are for a lifetime.