For or Against? Loving Our Neighbor This Election Season

Of all the classes I took in college, the one that may have made the most difference in my life was Logic at (what seemed in that season of life) the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. I struggled in clutching my coffee cup, sometimes narrowly avoiding being late, and listened to my professor explain concepts that would reshape my mental grid.

One easy-to-understand but revolutionary concept was this—avoid straw-man arguments, where you present your opponent’s view in a weak and insupportable way, like a scarecrow, and then proceed to knock it down to the wild applause of the crowd. This isn’t real fighting—it’s the coward’s way of emerging as a winner when you haven’t engaged the real issues. You look like a victor to everyone who already agrees with you, while those who disagree feel misunderstood and misrepresented. Using the straw-man argument shows that you’re not really about understanding the truth; you’re more interested in winning.

Another concept that rocked my world was the idea of a charitable interpretation—the opposite of the straw-man argument, explaining your opponent’s position in such a strong and persuasive way, in such a good light, that if your opponent were standing right beside you they would be like, “Wow, thank you for explaining my position so well. I know I was understood.”

A charitable interpretation doesn’t mean that you agree with your opponent or concede to them; it just means that you take the time to understand them and put their argument in the best light possible before you take it down. It’s the courageous way to play.

Ever since I finished that Logic class, I’ve been trying to do this in my own life. Listen to the opposing side. Sit with them awhile. Consider their view. Re-evaluate my own position. Engage thoughtfully. Quit knocking down scare-crows.

Recently I’ve been convicted that I’ve been violating some of my own principles. 

Way back last summer in 2015, when people were beginning to look toward the Republican primaries and Donald Trump was starting to be a major conversation piece, I immediately concluded that I would never vote for him. No matter what. I was completely appalled by his character. He offended everything that was important to me. My position since then has never changed.

But this last year’s political process has been eye-opening to me, as I’ve watched how differently my friends have reacted to it. You take a sampling of people who have the following qualities—they are intelligent, they are thoughtful, they do their research, they are pro-life, they are committed Christians—and some are arguing for Hillary Clinton, some for Donald Trump, and some for no one at all, or a third-party candidate, about which there is plenty of disagreement as well.

Maybe this shouldn’t have been so surprising to me, but it was—how, when we start with so much in common, do we end up on opposite sides of the fence?

And this is what challenged me—the #NeverTrump movement can be a comfortable place to be, because it feels like the moral high ground. It’s easy to be idealistic and self-righteous here. Yes, I’m talking to myself. It’s easy to construct straw-man arguments—“anyone who votes for Trump doesn’t care about women who have been assaulted or wants to minimize what they have suffered,” for example. Or—“any Christian who votes for Trump is putting their Republican politics above their faith.” (Ouch. Yes. I’m sorry.)

What happened to charitable interpretation? Our political process, and our conversations online about it, have turned into such a combat sport, that it can be all about knocking down scarecrows and emerging as a winner. It may not be nearly as exciting, but it’s certainly a lot better, to actually listen to the opposing side and consider.

When we put politics above loving our neighbor, we fall into the trap of thinking that Washington, D.C., is the only place that matters, that our federal government is where change happens, and that the most important thing I can do in my life is vote for an American Presidential candidate. That’s simply not true. These things are important, but they are just a small piece of what we are called to. No matter who wins this election and what the consequences are, what will be left of our relationships and communities when this election is over?

So this is what I’m realizing: My friends who are voting for Hillary Clinton—you have reasonable arguments that I’ve listened to, and especially if you’re an evangelical pro-life Christian, you’re doing a brave thing to swim against the flow here. I don’t agree with you, and voting for Clinton would violate my conscience, but I get where you’re coming from and I respect you.

My friends who are voting for Donald Trump—I know you are not like him. I am sorry if in my stand against him I have made you feel judged. I know you’re making a carefully considered decision to vote for someone you may have serious reservations about. You maybe think he’s evil, or at best misguided, or maybe a brand-new Christian with a rough past. But after looking at all the options, you think a vote for him is a strategic good and you feel like it’s a moral responsibility for you, and the best thing you can do for America and for the world. I don’t agree with you, and I still would like to find a #NeverTrump sign to put in my yard, but I really do understand the hard choice you’ve had to make and I respect you.

My friends who are voting third-party or not at all—I’m with you. This is where my sympathies lie, and no matter how irate we sometimes feel, let’s not get morally superior or just plain annoying about it. And no matter how much we may be accused of being irresponsible or wasting our vote, let’s not compromise our principles. If after thinking and praying about it, we’ve decided that this is where Jesus is calling us, we should never regret trying our best to follow Him.

Really, this election season is just one more test for how we love God and love our neighbor, and how we walk in humility and faith. We believe He rules sovereignly and He has a long history of fulfilling His purposes and writing His story despite (and sometimes through) evil authorities. Far more important than who we vote for is how we vote (in fear? cynicism? doubt? divisiveness? self-righteousness?) and how we treat each other in the process.

For me, this means that for the rest of this election season, unless you ask my opinion, I’m not going to give it to you (and that includes Facebook). I’m not going to worry about all the horrible political things I see online. Much as I think a #NeverTrump sign in my yard would be fun, I’m too busy chasing my kids around that yard to get one. I’m going to quietly vote my conscience on Election Day, love all my friends who vote the same or differently, and live like there’s a lot more to life than politics. Because there is.


Popular Posts