Connecting Across the Aisle

The events at the Capitol last Wednesday have been startling for many and has produced confusion, and stress for a number of people I know. The most unsettling moment for me was when a friend emailed me about a family situation. This person told me how some family members have united their Christian faith and the fight to keep Mr. Trump in office, and now this is causing other family member to loose faith in Jesus. To say this is a problem is an understatement; and the question becomes twofold, how to save he one person’s faith and how to interact with those uniting their faith to the politics of the day. I want to begin with the second of these issues in this post and save the first issue for another post.

I want to say from the outset that one can be a Christian and support Mr Trump. Would I am writing about here is the misguided belief that one must support Mr Trump to be a Christian and the belief that the events at the Capitol building were justified. The difficulty in discussing this issue is that there is a long history of Americans tying Christian belief to patriotism. There is a persistent mindset that for one to be a true patriot one must be a Christian and vice versa. Combined with this mindset, a number of Christian leaders have expressed the notion that God has ordained Mr Trump to be president and prophesied his reelection. These leaders have further said that for Christian ethical standards to be realized in this nation Mr Trump must be in office. Unfortunately, it is not simply a matter of pointing out facts when one is dealing with an individual who believes that Christianity is somehow tied to Mr Trump’s presidency.

So how do we engage with people the people whose faith is being swallowed by their political concerns? I think the first thing we must do is humor them– just listen. Remember many people (particularly those who support Mr. Trump right now) do not feel heard. We all have a set worldview and trying to oppose someone’s worldview when that individual is upset usually does not go well. So listen to the other person, even if that means biting your tongue while listening to conspiracy theories. But try to focus the conversation on the person’s Christian convictions. Next remind the person of your relationship. In these first two steps you are breaking down the wall between”We and They”. You are identifying with the person and showing your are with them.

One thing I always have to remind myself about is that I am not going to “talk sense into” someone. I am dialoguing with this person to show I care and to help this person discover new facts and hopefully grow. (I act like this is one conversation it might take several.) It is also important to remember that this person is probably part of a community of faith which is expressing these ideas. It is likely that this individual is surrounded by pastors and church leaders who are espousing similar opinions. So we must remember that any attack on facts can also be construed as an attack on faith. It is for this reason, I am very pleased to see Jeremiah Johnson recant some of his positions in recent days. Mr Johnson was a strong Trump supporter and among those who prophesied that Mr Trump would win reelection. He has come out and said that he is sorry for his strong support of that prophecy.he is further sorry for the harm that it is done to the Christian community. I think such reversals are important as we engage people of faith, because anyone who holds to a belief similar to Mr Johnson’s prophecy must now deal with his reversal. And while he has not been as fir m in his statements, Franklin Graham has also made overtures to president-elect Biden. Again my goal is not for this person to give up support of Christianity, conservative principles, or even necessarily Mr Trump. My goal is to help this person recognize that Mr Biden has won the election and so to put their efforts into more constructive endeavors. Thus reminding this person that prominent Christian Trump supporters have conceded the election will hopefully help this person identify the legality of the election.

At this point, I might confess that it bothers me to have the person lumped in with groups I find repugnant. I would also recognize that there are repugnant groups on the other side but that it hurts to have a friend/family member associated with this group. (i.e. it hurts to have you identified with white supremacists and holocaust deniers). I would specifically ask, “does association with this group harm a Christian’s witness?” I would also ask why this person believes that groups so opposed to Christian ideals are so closely united with some Christians. It is likely that the person does not have great answers for these questions; if that is the case let the answers stand without pushing back too hard. Pushing back on a person too much might cause them to become defensive. But it is important that a person recognize the the obstacles between Christian ideals and being aligned with certain hate groups. But just as important is that the person understand that in taking their strong position they are an alienating themselves from loved ones. (Without coming out and saying that)

Again the goal is not to get the person to give up beliefs; rather, this is a way to encourage dialogue between individuals with differing opinions in the hope that they will recognize their common ground and mutual relationship. It is far more important that unity be achieved than that someone is beaten over the head with facts. If unity is achieved, then one has the opportunity to reach the person with facts, but until unity is achieved facts are useless.

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