Seeking Detente — An Approach to Personal and Political Wars

Yesterday marked the milestone of Trump’s first 100 days in office, and if I’m honest I still find myself hoping his part of the next three years will go quickly. I’m not normally one to want to rush time that way, but part of me wishes at least the political universe could disappear, or that he would be impeached, or at least that he could be kept off of those banners and lists that show the past Presidents. I saw one last month visiting the Clinton Library in Little Rock and found myself wishing I could wipe off the picture like a smudge.

That said, I’ve also found it unproductive to forward all the negative political posts I see, or to occupy my thoughts constantly with worries about what the current President will do. This doesn’t mean that I don’t pay attention to the news, or roll my eyes, or that I don’t call my congressmen, or even work and hope for a replacement of the current leaders.

But what November’s election taught me more than the superiority of one political ideology over another was that debates over social media are more similar to cheering religiously for sports teams than they are about dialogic communication between opposing viewpoints. Such arguments are not unlike similar conversations I and others had in religious college organizations when we used to discuss the merits of Calvinist theology vs Armenian theology, or whether women should be in leadership in the Church, or whether one could be a Christian and be gay.

I’m not saying that some of those discussions are not important or that they don’t have real-life consequences, but it’s also true that however right I might be about something, my right-ness does nothing to convince a less than dialogic listener to consider what I’m saying and all of its ramifications, and anything less than also meeting another dialogically signals that I come with weapons loaded.

When my sister, now 45 and married to a woman, first asked me over 25 years ago if it was a sin to be gay, she caught me without a readiness to empathize or consider the place from which she was asking. My answer to her — Of course it is! Haven’t you read the Bible?! — involved no critical thinking, and came from a defensive posture.

I experienced the same posture in both myself and others in college, except we came to the fight armed with convenient verses of Scripture, books from famous Christian speakers and our own sense of righteous indignation. And sometimes a sense of smugness. We weren’t bad people, but we also only limited ourselves to being influenced by certain sources.

I noticed the same thing last fall, myself included. And I consider myself pretty open. But I bristled, and still do, when I noticed articles from conservative publications, or when I listened to arguments that I felt were extremely one-sided.

To the extent that I am open, my own openness has come from being in relationship with people different than myself and very consciously disarming my conversation of arguments. There’s a Heinneken commercial entitled Two World’s Apart that has made the Facebook rounds, and that beautifully illustrates this thinking.

I can’t help believing that it is a much better approach than what I experienced this past fall. I wonder if, between now and 2020, there will be more of these kind of meetings and the political wars will find a détente.