Civility, Politics, and Religion

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs18:2

There is plenty of incivility today. People are more interested in expressing their opinion than understanding the Other or another. Right verses Left. Conservative verses Liberal. Religion and politics are two subjects upon which many disagree.

Too many family dinners have turned sour when the conversation turned to religion or politics. Speaking of family tables, Christians gather at the Table of the Lord with diverse opinions, not only about theology, but also politics (the way we choose to live together). But the Lord's, is a Table that breaks down the barriers between Jew and Gentile, models humility, respects the image in which we were created, and is the supreme example of what it means to love one another. This is a table where the diversity of creation is on full display. People come from east and west, north and south to sit at the table. People of colors, genders, cultures, even religious differences are invited. There is no way to sit at this table without experiencing difference. However, Christ invited all humanity into this Table's common life, stewardship, and purpose.

Today’s church and society is polarized because we no longer share a common purpose that bridges our differences. We have lost respect for our neighbor and we don’t feel we have the time to listen to each other. And, sadly, we have identified ourselves with our opinions, instead of a common quest for understanding. To speak theologically, the reason we confess our sin is to remind ourselves that we are not God, Truth, Right, or Power. Those adjectives and nouns are characteristics that belong to God. We live and move and have our being in the One who is those things. The human quest, then, is to seek those things in God - to be related to them, to find identity in the One who is Truth, Right, and Power. Religion and politics are human creations. Certainly, we try to model them after God, Truth, and Right. However, our finite, imperfect nature must lead us to be humble regarding our opinions on these things, to respect neighbor, and find our way in a common search for good and Truth.

Jim Brown, author of Ending our Uncivil War: A Path to Political Recovery and Spiritual Renewal said this, “We’re in a Binary Age, where nuance is rare, complexity is verboten and sharp political battle lines are drawn. Churchgoers on both sides of our national mess are reluctant to turn a cheek, fine with abandoning the ‘least of our brothers’ or condemning anyone who is wealthy, and adamantly opposed to loving their enemy.”

Further, today we can see signs that we have perverted our religion by elevating our politics into a position that defines our religion. The Apostle Paul outlines this in his letter to the Romans (8:18-25),

8-23 But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So, nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.

24-25 So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!

Proverb 18:2 reminds us that our true humanity is found in understanding not in our opinions. The Table of the Lord has profound implications... It is a place where we confess that our opinions are not Truth. It is a place where we are humbled in the knowledge that we are not God, Truth, or Right. It is a place where, being together can broaden our perceptions. It is a place were we can approach each other with respect for all who are there, offer each other dignity, and listen to each other. It is a place of calm and gentle peace (peace beyond understanding) when we confess together that God is love and love hosts this table. In love, we live and move and have being. The Table is a place where God is judge and we are not! It is a place where we acknowledge our need for God and each other. The Table is not the Table without Christ’s welcome.

All of us, at one time or another, have been incredibly difficult persons. We have let our opinions get in the way of understanding. We have made situations frustrating, maddening, and sometimes even frightening when we think our opinions are Right and Truth. Sometimes it's us and sometimes our neighbor who just won't reason. We all need to do better.

The Table of the Lord gives us some proven techniques to better manage our human relationships.

Here are ten tips, proven techniques from the Table of the Lord, that can help us cultivate a better mindset.

1. Listen. Listening is the number one step in dealing with “unreasonable” people. Everyone wants to feel heard. No progress can take place until the other person feels acknowledged. While you’re listening, really focus on what the other person is saying, not what you want to say next.

2. Stay calm. When a situation is emotionally charged, it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment. Monitor your breathing. Try to take some slow, deep breaths. Remember God is in control, not you.

3. Don’t judge. You don’t know what the other person is going through. Chances are, if a person is acting unreasonable, they are likely feeling some sort of vulnerability or fear. Christ's judgement is preceded by mercy.

4. Reflect respect and dignity toward the other person. No matter how a person is treating you, showing contempt will not help resolve the situation or lead to deeper understanding.

5. Look for the hidden need. What is this person really trying to say? What is this person trying to avoid?

6. Look for others around you who might be able to help. When someone is being unreasonable, look for others around who can help make the place safe.

7. Don’t demand compliance. For example, telling someone who’s upset to be quiet and calm down will just make him or her more irate. Instead, ask the person what they are upset about—and allow them to vent. We are all imperfect and sometimes our expressions of power, disgust, and disrespect are only expressions of our weakness and fear.

8. Saying, “I understand,” usually makes things worse. The reason we are at quarreling is that we don’t understand, or we are seeking the wrong truth. Say instead, “Tell me more so I can understand better.” (Always use I statements)

9. Don’t return anger with anger. Raising your voice, pointing your finger, shaking your head in exasperation, or speaking disrespectfully to the other person will add fuel to an already heated situation. Use a low, calm, voice. Don’t try to talk over the person. Wait until the person takes a breath and then speak. 10. Don’t argue or try to convince the other person of anything. Share your own thoughts with “I feel…, I think, I need clarity…”. Don’t disrespect another by implying that their perspective is wrong. This does not mean that you must agree. It just means, try to understand.

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