I like to think I am a mostly agreeable person. I’m not too easily upset; however, if I’m not careful I can find myself engrossed in a hotly contested debate with my children over who is the best Mario Party character. Which is a silly debate, of course. Only because the correct answer is clearly Luigi.
Disagreements and competition are part of life. Many of us felt the competitive spirit as we watched the news during Election Week. Did anyone else get a headache from watching all the election coverage? It felt like I was watching a tense football game: rooting for one team to win, counting points, listening to the ongoing commentary. I was just waiting for one of the newscasters to tackle somebody. No matter where you fall on the political scale, it’s been an exhausting few weeks and even months.
It seems the divide between various political groups within our society grows wider by the day. Tensions are high between groups on the far-right and groups on the far-left. Many of the riots taking place in major cities in our country have had large groups showing up looking prepared for a fight with baseball bats and paintball guns. Though most of these people say they would only act in self-defense, it doesn’t take much for them to feel justified in acting violently. This shows us a broader trend in America, which is that people on both sides find violence an acceptable form of bringing about their goals. This is particularly troubling because opposing sides are hardly ever persuaded through force. If you are attacked for your views, you generally become even more convinced you are right. Proverbs 15:1 says it succinctly: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
To make matters worse, members of both sides tend to demonize the other side by falsely claiming the other side acts purely out of hate and believing that everyone on the other side adheres to the most extreme views. This explains why the rhetoric only intensifies the conflict as each side loudly denounces the others for views they believe they hold. However, rarely do they know this for certain because they’ve never actually talked to someone on the other side. Do you know what the other side just said about you? It may be that you don’t actually believe that for which you are being attacked.
And that’s the major rub here, oftentimes the contentious rhetoric is geared at a group of people of which individuals have never had a one-on-one conversation. All these major riots that have taken place have had about as much intelligent dialogue as two grown men watching football together (basically just a lot of cheering, shouting, and grunting).
We could instead look to the example of someone like Darryl Davis. Davis, a black blues musician, spent the last twenty years befriending men in the Klu Klux Klan, and through those friendships has helped several hundred leave the group. Davis speaks of how mutual respect and understanding is what led to real change. In that way he models Jesus, who ate meals with the “worst of the worst” in society (Matthew 9:10-13) and had lunch with Zacchaeus, a notorious thief, who never looked back on his old ways after his interaction with Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).
Maybe having healthy face-to-face conversations can open the door to friendships even with those whom we disagree with, whether its politics, religion, or video game characters. Surely, this is possible. Of course, opening yourself up to other positions also means you may need to change your views, and that proposition may feel scarier than going to your in-laws for Thanksgiving, but you’ll be okay in the end, and at least there will be pie. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any core beliefs, of course, we will, but trying to understand another’s perspective is part of what it means to show empathy and compassion.
This Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for what we have. Be thankful for a nation that allows for open dialogue and freedoms that many do not enjoy. And let’s be thankful to a God who accepts us in Christ, even in our disagreeable state.
Lord, help me hear before I speak, offer grace before critique, and live like I’ve got no enemies. Lord have mercy, Amen.