So I’m going to talk politics.

(Oh, boy, if that isn’t comments-bait, I don’t know what is.) I’m going to talk politics in a way that’s been smoldering along in the back of my head for years. This is not borne out of the current political climate. I was thinking this way four years ago. I began thinking this way in college. It is, I hope, completely irrelevant to which party is in power, and which side any of you stand on. I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to drill this home quite as much as I’d like to, but I’m gonna give it my best.

I’m going to talk politics, and right off the bat, I know how some people would react to that. The first thing out their mouth would be whether so-and-so in power is good or bad. It would veer immediately into the Issue of the Day. It would be laden with “facts” quoted from whatever website or news commentator they listen to. There would be a solid denunciation of the other side, some personal anecdotes about why such and such is right or wrong, maybe some mean jokes, and then a silent expectation for me to either agree with the preceding or change the subject.

In other words, very little would actually be said. And nothing would be done.

I do not delude myself that the tenor of politics has changed for the better or the worse in the past – oh – two hundred years. There has been shouting and vitriol on all sides, what my old Ethics professor calls “negative discourse”, since people started forming societies. We don’t like opposition, especially when it comes to How Things Should Be Done. That, in itself, is fine. But we build these fortresses, we shut out disagreements. We have walls of facts and statistics, and shoot cannonballs of defamation and accusation. We stake our claim on some high hill with everyone who agrees with us, and threaten to tear down any opposing camp.

This is wrong.

I am not saying that it is wrong to hold an opinion. I am not saying that it is wrong to believe that some things are right and others are wrong. I believe very firmly in things – societal, political ideas – that some of you disagree with pretty strongly. We stand at other ends of ideas, and if we are convicted of the rightness of our beliefs, then we should not give up our convictions for the sake of “getting along.” I believe what I believe firmly, and it is important to me. That does not mean I can’t talk about it, that I can’t have a good argument about it (and I mean a good argument, where there’s respect and understanding involved), that I can’t let people challenge it. If my beliefs can’t stand up to a good argument, there’s something wrong with my beliefs, not with the other side.

Otherwise, all we’re doing is sticking our fingers in our ears and singing, “LALALALA!” That’s what a small child does when it’s faced with something it can’t handle.

And what we’re arguing is beliefs. What we’re debating is ideas. What I’m talking about is politics, and not people. Too many on any side of a debate have decided that instead of arguing intelligently about ideas, they are going to attack the people holding them instead. “If you believe such-and-such, you must be a bad person.” They vilify leaders, they disrespect them, they tear them down and mock them. I have heard people on both sides joke about what a shame a given president hasn’t died. This is funny? A human being – a living, breathing person with family and friends, and you think it’d be funny if they died? I know a lot of these people would say, “I’m just poking fun,” and I’d say, “yeah, what would you say if I said that about the last/latest guy?”

‘Cause you know what I’ve found? While wandering around the internet, and reading about people, and listening to them talk – people I disagree really strongly with and who hold ideas I find foolish, disturbing, even abhorrent?

They’re people.

Folks on the other side of politics, do you know what they want? Same thing I do: to make the world better. What we don’t agree on is how. That’s where the debate is. That’s where we meet and talk. Because, truth is, they don’t like watching people suffer. They don’t like poverty or famine or crime. We hold that in common, and so that’s where we should start. That’s always where we should start.

And our leaders – they’re people too. Maybe I didn’t vote for the guy – so what? Am I gonna stomp my feet and throw a tantrum? Or am I gonna sit down and say, “Okay, I don’t agree with your policies, can I try to change your mind?” We should not be praying for our leaders’ failure any more than we should be joking about their deaths – we should be working to change their minds. And we should do so with respect, with reason, and most of all, with grace.

There is a danger in all of this. There’s always a chance that when we open ourselves up to discourse, when we sit down and have a proper, well-thought-out argument, that we may turn out to be wrong. The other side might bring up angles we hadn’t thought of, might challenge us in ways we didn’t expect. This, too, isn’t a bad thing. Maybe our side is wrong. Maybe our side should change. We’re human, it happens. And we should be humble enough and honest enough to take those policies and hold them up to our beliefs, to hash them out and figure out what they’re founded on and where they might lead. This is neither cowardice nor foolishness, this is discernment, the rarest and most valuable of thinking skills.

There will never be a day when the sides of an issue aren’t yelling at each other and trying to drag each other down. We can take the easy route and join in, or we can choose to do better, and raise the game.

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” I Peter 2:17, ESV