Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard more than your share of political news over the course of the last few months. A presidential election, a school shooting in Connecticut, and a fiscal cliff have left everyone with plenty of opinions to share and not enough listeners to go around.
I’m not saying that there’s a problem with expressing one’s opinions. I understand the impulse. Events like these often leave us feeling helpless. Our votes don’t count. Our opinions don’t matter. People think we’re worthless and that our thinking is defective. No one hears what we say. No one cares. All that’s left it to yell – to make people listen whether they want to or not. And when nobody listens despite the noise? We yell louder.
But what happens when, in the course of exercising our “freedom of speech”, we get it wrong? I’m not talking about simply calling names (though such behavior is never becoming of a Christian), but about an even more grievous offence: misrepresenting the other side of the argument.
We’ve all seen it happen. A conservative angrily flings the term “baby killer” at a pro-abortion liberal. A liberal asserts that all of those who oppose gun control want to see convicts given access to deadly weapons. In a moment of frustration, such statements may express our feelings… but they certainly don’t express the truth. And it’s the truth with which we, as Christians, ought to be concerned.
I’ll be honest. I know a lot of liberals and if any one of them genuinely believed that abortion was murder, they’d oppose it with all of their hearts. I also know a lot of conservatives and I’ve never met one who wanted psychopaths to have access to firearms. So what happens when we express these emotional reactions on Facebook and Twitter? What’s the result of our forwarding misguided e-mails in order to “rally the troops” or posting anti-(insert the political view you most dislike here) statements on our blogs?
The answer is that we lose credibility. And this is where evangelism comes in. As Christians, our primary charge is that of Matthew 20:18-19, also known as “The Great Commission”. It is our duty to “Go into the world and preach the Gospel…” Not just to our conservative friends. Not just to our liberal pals. But to everyone.
Accomplishing this commission becomes a challenge when we’ve already clearly and openly misrepresented the views of those with whom we intend to share. After all, if we can’t accurately explain the liberal/conservative/green party view – why would anyone believe that we can accurately represent God’s point of view? Perhaps, obedience to Christ’s command requires that we spend a little less time exercising our constitutional right to “freedom of speech” and a little more time exercising our listening skills. After all, wasn’t that one of Jesus’ chief commands, “He who has ears, let him hear?”
If you don’t already have a selection of friends who don’t agree with your point of view, I suggest you take time to make some. Treat someone from “the opposition” to a cup of coffee and ask them to explain what they believe and why. Then listen. In a world full of shouting, such genuine enquiry is often quite refreshing!
When they start to express ideas with which you don’t agree: don’t rebuttal. Don’t try to question them until they contradict themselves. Don’t try to convert them. Just listen. You may be surprised at what you learn. And you may even make a friend.
The last time I checked, George W. Bush didn’t turn out to be the Antichrist and, the way things stand right now, it doesn’t look like Barack Obama will either. So the next time you feel like sharing your opinion about someone else’s politics, take a breath, say a prayer, and remember that God is in control regardless of who holds office or what the politics of “the masses” will or won’t allow through Congress. It’s not our job to expose every error in the opposition’s thinking and it certainly isn’t our job to create error where there is none! Speak the truth and, if you don’t know what the truth is, take time to find out. A little less angry noise will do a world of good.