Reforming Political Discourse: A Respectful Conversation
The political climate surrounding both the Obama and Trump presidencies is marked by hyper-partisan attitudes. Much of the rhetoric centers around “we’ll do this without you” from the majority party and “if you’re for it, we’re against it” from the minority party. Every available political tool is wielded to defeat what the other side wants to do. The news from the right and left often seems to be covering different planets. Many people appear to be listening only to an echo of themselves. Policy discussion is marked by talking points that inflame one side and caricature the other. This melee teaches us how not to communicate with each other. Families and communities are so divided that political discussion and life together becomes uncomfortable and sometimes impossible. Do Christians have resources for working together across political differences? Can we offer an alternative to the current appalling state of political discourse? We think so. Our senior fellow at TCF, Harold Heie, is hosting a new digital conversation on Reforming our Political Discourse on his website, Respectful Conversation. This digital conversation will feature: Proposing a Christian perspective on political discourse Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed Christian perspective Modeling the proposed Christian perspective by discussing the nature of politics and selected contentious public policy issues Discussing a possible way forward for Christians Each topic in this 10-month dialog features two conversation partners with significant disagreements in the subject matter. The hope for this project is to show how people on opposite sides of conflict demonstrate respect for one another and discover common ground that fosters ongoing conversation. We hope you'll join us for this enlightening and thought-provoking conversation!
Last week I enjoyed being a history fangirl when I attended a lecture from presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin as part of Calvin College’s January Series. She gave some historical perspective on the 2016 election, outlining the evolution of our current primary system and how the party conventions no longer select the candidates. It was fascinating, but what I’ve been chewing on these past few days was her list of presidential leadership attributes. This came out of a conversation she had with the late Tim Russert of NBC. They agreed that journalists and the American people should focus on the leadership attributes of the candidates, not the social battles. Here are the five she discussed, which are also quite applicable to us as religious leaders. Temperament: how your nature impacts your behavior Goodwin pointed out that President Trump’s temperament is pretty clear: winning. But that’s not all the equation. History shows that resiliency is a key part of presidential achievements. Both Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt developed a humility of spirit through their adversity and setbacks, which paved the way for the patience, resiliency, and empathy that were hallmarks of their administrations. Surrounding yourself with key people President Trump recently tweeted a blanket defense of the diverse people in his cabinet. Goodwin said surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you is mirrored by other presidents. (She talks about that in depth in Team of Rivals, about the Lincoln administration). Inspire the best performance from your team Even though you have great people around you, they still need to perform at a high level. Goodwin observed that President Trump has shown himself a hard worker and time will tell if his team yields positive results. Find a way to relax and replenish Self-care is a popular buzzword right now. Goodwin reiterated that presidents also need ways to shake off the anxieties that come with the office. Lincoln went to the theater hundreds of times as president. Teddy Roosevelt was an avid reader and took a two-hour exercise break each day. Franklin Roosevelt hosted a daily cocktail hour where guests had to talk about anything other than the war. Goodwin shared that she hopes President Trump can learn from his predecessors and find a way to relax. “Leadership requires humor and the ability to replenish oneself,” she said. Amen. Communicate with your constituency Newspapers across the county reprinted each of Lincoln's speeches. Teddy Roosevelt had the gift of memorable turns of phrase that stuck with the American public. Every living room with a wireless radio heard Franklin Roosevelt’s voice. President Trump seems to have embraced the new media of Twitter, which may prove to be his legacy (it certainly garners a lot of our attention). Like many of us, I’m struggling with how to move forward in our deeply divided country. I draw hope from a quote that Goodwin shared from former First Lady Abigail Adams, “Great necessities call out great virtues.” As Christians, we are called and commanded to exhibit virtues like patience, kindness, and humility ESPECIALLY in times of great tension, division, and uncertainty. Maybe you’ll join me in reflecting on what a humility of spirit looks like—for ourselves, our churches, and our community of faith. This originally appeared on The Twelve, a blog of Perspectives Journal.
Dear Friends, Tensions are high this Election Day. It seems like most of our country is gripped by anxiety and fear as this election cycle reaches its climax. We are more divided than ever. How should a Christian act in the midst of such upheaval? While listening to a recent sermon, I was reminded that the prophet Daniel served under eight kings while he and the Jews were held captive in Babylon. During those 70-plus years, he served some relatively good kings as well as some really bad kings. The one constant in Daniel’s life throughout this period of captivity was this: He prayed. He prayed three times a day. Every day, he prayed. When people plotted, he prayed. When he was thrown into the lion’s den, he prayed. When his friends were locked in a fiery furnace, he prayed. Praying gave him unusual insight into the nature of things. Praying gave him an “excellent spirit” that drew people to him throughout the rise and fall of kings and empires. Prayer reminded Daniel that God is in charge. Kings and governments are not. Whatever the results of this election, we are invited to pray—for our new and returning leaders, for our common life together, and for ourselves. Let’s follow Daniel’s lead by growing a regular practice of prayer. In this season, it may look like taking short pauses to talk with the Lord when you feel anxious or worried about the election (or your long to-do list, or a sudden financial crisis, or a difficult health situation). When our first response is prayer, it re-orients us toward God. In the presence of the Lord, our souls quiet and the busyness, worry, and anxiety subside. Join us here at The Colossian Forum as we make prayer our practice in anxious times and divisive situations. This post is excerpted from our November prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
You may have noticed how quickly conversations can get contentious when politics come up, even (or especially) among Christians. In a bold effort to change the way we go about these difficult issues, friend of TCF Harold Heie has just released a book that models a way of holding respectful conversations in the midst of political disagreements. In Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues, Heie addresses concerns ranging from immigration to marriage to gun control to foreign policy. In a unique approach to these issues, he begins by drawing on posts from an online conversation he hosted at respectfulconversation.net. Over the course of nine months, Christians who hold a broad variety of perspectives on these matters interacted with one another thoughtfully and respectfully, modeling a civil mode of engagement. As the online conversation drew to a close, Heie collected these contributions and worked to synthesize them, highlighting commonality or majority opinions and proposing next steps in working together for resolution. The result, Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues, invites the reader to follow the example of these thinkers, and to engage in difficult political conversations with grace and respect. While TCF has not yet hosted forums on the topic of political discourse, we realize that the church desperately needs tools to engage this challenge more fruitfully and charitably. Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues presents an approach that complements our work for hospitable conversation, and suggests a variety of entry points into this difficult arena. We are grateful to our friend Harold for modeling a better way and for challenging Christians to a more respectful conversation.
This month’s topic at RespectfulConversation.com ventures into the potentially hazardous territory of Evangelicalism and politics. As Kyle Roberts writes, “There are no quick and easy answers to the questions of political involvement.” The complexities of Christian involvement in politics stir up conflict in many quarters, and the writers don’t steer clear of these difficulties. Some writers support robust political involvement, others defend a deepened sense of participation in God’s kingdom, rather than an earthly one. It becomes apparent that not all writers share the same concerns, and even where similar issues are addressed, perspectives range from conservative to liberal. Perhaps surprisingly, however, a thread of commonality runs through the majority of the posts. These writers exhibit a shared and profound sense that, as Amy Black describes it, “The problem is not political engagement in and of itself; the problem is that many Christians fail to demonstrate Christ-like character as they engage in politics.” Evangelicalism’s political strength, these writers suggest, is its continual call to integrity, to reflecting the character of God in all that we do and say. In other words, our political involvement – whatever form it takes – must be grounded first and foremost in our faithful obedience and commitment to a loving God. Any hope of discerning how to wisely engage political controversies will begin here. Black describes the challenge this way: At their worst, Christian political movements become triumphalist and power-seeking; their leaders are arrogant, contentious, and condescending. At their best, however, Christian political movements can offer a powerful witness of Christ’s upside-down kingdom, modeling humility, grace, and repentance in the public square. TCF envisions a church in which Christians – regardless of their political stance – can offer this powerful witness. We’re grateful to this month’s contributors for modeling such a charitable conversation.