Deciding who to vote for, take two  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,

A lovely comment arrived from Sue in response to my post titled, “Deciding who to vote for” which included a thoughtful piece by James Skillen.

 

Thanks so much for sharing this piece. I found it very helpful and very refreshing in a time when so much political dialogue is embedded in fierce partisan loyalties. I can engage with Skillen's ideas without feeling like I've got to wear armor.

 

But ... I shared the link with a group of acquaintances, thinking that it was a good model of civil discourse and might inspire some useful dialogue. Well, what it inspired was (in their own words) "a hornet's nest." According to them, the entire article is a pro-Obama, pro-Democrat, pro-second-exodus-narrative (and therefore anti-American) diatribe. One person responded, "I didn't know Francis Schaeffer was a socialist or communist." I was flabbergasted.

 

So ... I've long admired your patient responses to similar off-the-charts reactions to articles that you believed were well-measured critiques, but I'm wondering, how do you personally decide when to offer clarifications, further discussion, etc., and when to just say, "Hmmmm, there's not much point in continuing this discussion"? How do you graciously end a fruitless disagreement?

 

That’s a great question, Sue. I can’t tell you how often I’ve faced similar responses to things I’ve shared or said or taught. It can be very discouraging especially when these responses are coming from people who claim to be the people of God. Bertrand Russell used to say, “People would rather die than think; in fact they do.” He was correct, and sadly, it applies even to those who claim that following the Truth is central to their lives.

 

I think there are several reasons why this occurs. (I don’t know if your friends were Christians or not, but since the Francis Schaeffer comment sounds like it came from a Christian, I’ll assume they were believers here.) First, many Christians have come to believe that conformity is a measure of commitment—in other words, that believers should necessarily share not just identical doctriness and ethics, but opinions and activities. However, having a Christian mind does not mean that there is a “Christian line” on every topic. Life and reality are far richer and more nuanced than that. Second, many evangelicals, having decided that a conservative ideology embraces their political leanings, begin to confuse conservatism with Christianity. It’s a subtle process, but also a deadly one, since no ideology should be infused into the gospel. Third, few understand that political ideologies are not neutral, but are, to use a biblical theological category, idolatries. Each one, conservatism included, takes one aspect of created reality and elevates it to a position where it defines the rest of life—making it into a god, a sovereign. (For a thoughtful and fascinating study of this, see Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis.) And finally, I am convinced that Russell was correct. Thinking is hard, listening is difficult, sorting through competing claims takes time and energy, while skating through life is far easier. So, people tend to read authors they agree with, hang with people like them, and react defensively (angrily, fearfully) when anyone says anything that doesn’t seem to line up with their own prejudices and opinions.

 

So, knowing that, I try not to be discouraged when I find Christians shutting down conversations. I try to keep from reacting myself, which is hard. Sometimes, I will say something like, “Why does it feel like you don’t really want to listen or talk about this winsomely?” Or, “Do you think Christians should be able to talk about this without it being a hornet’s nest?” I try to be a good listener, and calmly ask good questions. (The calmly part is the hard part, of course.) Sometimes, I just remain silent, knowing that their minds are closed to truth and that they need the gospel far more than they need help thinking about politics.

 

The saddest part to me in all this is not that your friends are unable to discuss such topics without defensiveness, nor that they misread Skillen, nor even that they are so closed-minded about seeking after truth with others. What is saddest to me is that they are so unsafe to talk to. Margie and I have long prayed our home would be the safest place in Rochester, where people can explore ideas without fear and where they can be themselves without being treated dismissively.

 

Anyway, be safe, Sue. Not in the sense of keeping out of danger (though I wish that for you, too), but in the sense of being a person who, like Jesus never compromised but with whom people understood they could be with, without having to wear armor. As you do, remember that some walked away from him angrily after stirring up hornet’s nests, too.

 

And thanks for your kind words.

 

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5 comments

A pastor in Austin was quoted by the local newspaper last week saying he planned to vote for Obama, a front page article no less. Last Sunday he was asked to resign by a substantial portion of his congregation. (Thankfully the paper didn't cover the fallout from their first story.) Yet another shining example of John 13:35 in action.

October 29, 2008 at 2:31 PM

So sad. I'm not certain what is worse: the lack of love or the idolatry of being captive to a particular ideology. Then again, as cause & effect, they are simply the two sides to a single coin.

October 29, 2008 at 3:35 PM

In discussing the merits of Obama v. McCain, one might find it helpful to examine specifically how candidates’ records and rhetoric line up or do not line up with the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration, science, ethics, facts on the ground, and Scripture.

Gather information, consider, discuss, keep an independent, open mind, but do not fear reaching conclusions, or fear having to rethink those conclusions on the basis of new information.

Do not let social pressure, peer groups, or awkward responses -- left, right, or center -– push you around. Or scare you away.

Do not confuse passion with fanaticism or idolatry. Or neutrality with wisdom.

Finally, keep armor close at hand. Vigilance is appropriate even in safe places.

October 30, 2008 at 10:14 AM

I have enjoyed the lively back and forth in the email "On disagreeing with a friend about Obama, with a coda on plagiarism" between Dennis and yourself. I find myself sympathetic especially to your last response; ergo I am eagerly digesting your blog.

...To this post the following quotes seemed a propos:

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
—Aristotle

"When people defend their world view, they are not defending reason, or God, or an abstract system; they are defending their own fragile sense of security and self respect."
—Daniel Taylor, "The Myth of Certainty"

"We suffer when a vision of reality to which we have committed ourselves is contemptuously ignored by others. For a general unbelief imperils our convictions by evoking an echo in us. [We feel that] our vision must conquer or die." —Michael Polanyi, "Personal Knowledge"

My comments would possess far less profundity.

October 30, 2008 at 4:39 PM

Actually it's between Justin and me, but I think that's what you meant. I think these quotes are so good, so to the point. Thanks.

October 30, 2008 at 5:10 PM

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