Politics in America is currently broken. It seems like no one can express an opinion or debate a policy without losing friends or family. And, although we cannot change overnight a political culture that took decades to fester, I do believe the answer in large part is found in the Bible. Peter writes,
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17).
We need a political correction. It should start with followers of Jesus. And, it can begin by the ways in which we talk. Rather than debating in the binary fights of Democrats versus Republicans, Christians should carve out a third way, shining light on the strengths and weaknesses of all sides and being known for our reasonableness.
10 Suggestions for Respectful Political Dialogue
To get us started, here are 10 suggestions for growing in respectful political dialogue.
- You SHOULD NOT call the President a Nazi or a fascist. There may exist deep concerns over rhetoric used and positions taken, but very few American politicians are advocating for the eradication of an entire race.
- You SHOULD NOT label a person or policy racist in a loose, flippant way. If everything is racism, then nothing is racism. Weaponizing that word in political debate trivializes the horrors of real racism.
- You SHOULD NOT speak in language of political absolutes where one party is always right and the other party is always wrong. All Republicans don’t hate poor people and Democrats are not all abortionists. We should be able to say, “Senator ________ is a patriotic American who sees the world through a different lens than me.”
- You SHOULD NOT speak as an authority on subjects you are not well-versed in. Most issues of public policy are filled with complexities the average citizen is simply unaware of. We should be willing to humbly say, “I recognize I’m not an expert on this, but here’s what I think right now.” This brings down the collective temperature of our debates.
- You SHOULD NOT call news that is unfavorable to your candidates or side “fake news.” There is a difference between bias and outright fabrications. This is something that has dangerous implications for our democracy if not checked.
- You SHOULD be willing to disagree with members of your own party when they’re wrong and applaud members of the opposing party when they’re right. This gives you more credibility than you know.
- You SHOULD honor those in authority by referring to them by their respective titles (Senator, Congressman, Governor, etc.) and use the phrase “respectfully” or “with all due respect” when disagreeing. “With all due respect, Speaker __________ was wrong to not challenge ______________ on his poor choice of words.”
- You SHOULD think ten times before posting (or reposting) a political thought or rant on social media. Why? Because you don’t want to alienate people from the gospel because they disagree with you politically. What good is it to get 1,000 “likes” on Facebook while at the same time creating 1,000 more degrees of separation from your lost neighbor?
- You SHOULD listen to and read notable voices from opposing views. Conservatives should watch some CNN. Liberals should read The National Review every now and then. We need to get information from a variety of viewpoints. This can reduce the tribalism and “group-think” pervading our current politics.
- You SHOULD point people to the Ultimate King of the Eternal World where only righteousness dwells. Rather than trying to prove that Jesus is a Republican or Democrat or speaking as if every political issue is ultimate life or death, we should be able to say as Christians, “I know this is an important issue, and there doesn’t seem to be easy answers in this fallen world. That’s why we hope in a new heaven and new earth where these issues won’t plague us any longer.”
Chris James serves as Boston Collegiate Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England where he serves as pastor of Mill City Church & Christian Student Fellowship, a multi-site ministry reaching students at UMASS Lowell. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi (BA) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).