When you’re asked these three questions, you’re instantly running into a bitter bloody crossfire.
– Are you for or against gay marriage?
– Are you pro-life or pro-choice?
– Are you a Democrat or Republican?
But I want to counter-ask:
Why do we only have to think within these two opposing grids? Who made up the rules of this conflict? What if there was a different way to do this than the paradigms we have blindly bought into?
What our world does is what it has always done: takes a human issue, forces two sides against each other, comes up with all kinds of pseudo-articulate arguments, and ratchets up the volume.
Is this really the only dang way to communicate?
For many of us, this is all we ever know. The incessant angry yelling ignores the people trapped inside these debates, and we are brainwashed into excluding the “other” based on our own limited understanding of reality.
Real-live multi-layered human beings get lost in the urge to push ideologies — and I keep wondering if there’s a better way to navigate our disagreements.
Our current public discourse always looks barbaric and overly simplistic: because winning your idea at the White House cannot legislate someone’s soul. That’s state-sponsored tyranny.
Even if your side wins, what then? How do we reconcile with the “other”? What do you really win?
How do we offer something more than “Stop it” ..? How do we get off the anti-ground of what we’re against and move towards what we’re for?
Carved Tiny Boxes: One-Size-Fits-One
Currently our “systems of belief” are carved in such a way that we must take on dogma as a whole, in every part, without much challenge.
A Republican is expected to act a certain way; so is a Democrat. Anything outside a specific domain of ideology will get you killed. It’s in our human nature to eat our own.
Immediately then, a side must be chosen that can never overlap with opposing ideas. It’s as if removing one piece of lumber brings down the whole house. Apparently, you can’t be a Republican for gun control. You can’t be a Democrat for the death penalty. Or prepare to face political cannibals.
If I appear to be simplifying the issue, you’re right: the individual is smarter than the entire “side.” But both sides, by default, must subscribe to a pre-programmed groupthink with clearly defined boundaries. Otherwise you’re called a traitor, the oddball, “slightly left,” or misinformed.
“When love of one’s people becomes an absolute, it turns into racism. When love of equality turns into a supreme thing, it can result in hatred and violence toward anyone who has led a privileged life. It is the settled tendency of human societies to turn good political causes into counterfeit gods … We can look upon our political leaders as ‘messiahs,’ our political policies as saving doctrine, and turn our political activism into a kind of religion.”
— Timothy Keller
Humans: Predictable, Programmed, Prepackaged, Pavlovian
Declaring a “side” will take up arms against another human being, as if ideas are more valuable than people.
Maybe the idea began to help someone: but the way of propositional politics in the hands of fallen men always crushes the people it was meant to restore. It weaponizes an idea into picket signs, angry rants, loud bloggers, hapless trolls, and mob mentality.
The motives are simple: We like the sound of our own voices. We promote our own agendas. We want to win against another. Somehow, it scores points at the game of life.
We like to jump on bandwagons and social causes and protests because we want to belong in a plastic package, even as our conscience erodes and we devalue the other side. No one likes the unknown: so we’ll settle for a box, even when it’s really a coffin.
Sometimes we really believe in what we’re fighting for and it might be objectively right, but we act with unchecked hostile aggression and call it “passion” and “sincerity.”
Our minds are so Pavlovian-conditioned to lock people into categories that we forget: no one ever fits the one-dimensional cartoon-caricature that we wish them to be. This sort of prejudice makes it easier to bash others by dehumanizing them, until all we’re left with is an unrecognizable political tapeworm that feeds itself and helps no one else.
Burning The Box, Dismantling Categories
Yet I believe we are capable of holding multiple beliefs in tension, in balance, without conflict — and we do this everyday.
We learn not to think too high or low of ourselves, for too high is arrogant and too low is despair.
We learn to make exceptions in special cases when it involves our children.
We aim to strike a balance between being tough and tender.
We can even be friends with people who vote differently.
It’s possible not only to maintain different shades of belief, but also not to demonize those who disagree: because we do this for ourselves, too. We make peace with the worst of our own actions, even as we vilify others who do the same things.
By understanding the “other,” I’m not talking about overlooking inconsistency, hypocrisy, compromise, or an ethical free-for-all. I mean: we can be constructive towards a common good without forcing a binary battle.
We can quit zero-sums and dead-locks and stalemates by acknowledging the freedom of people in their particular situations: which requires a more nuanced clarity and realistic engagement that will not allow for sweeping dogmatic solutions. It is the meshing of idealism and realism instead of squeezing out one for the other.
If you demand that I pick a side in the political arena, you are performing a horrible exorcism. Except this one doesn’t kill a demon: it kills the soul of our reason. It removes human from humanity.
So I don’t know if I’m either pro-life nor pro-choice. I am just pro-people.
I suppose you can call this “progressive” or “semi-liberal” or “moderately conservative” or “relativistic” — but that’s already falling into the trap of easy labels. You could say I’m “copping out” or “playing it safe,” but that’s already the binary-system forcing you to force me into a box.
“I think we often want everything to be neatly organized and packaged. Life is messy, and things are messy. The Gospel is clear, but I think the Gospel lived out in the context of a broken world is going to be messy, and we have to understand that and give permission to languish and to swim and do ministry in that kind of messy space.”
— Eugene Cho
Obligatory Christian Perspective
If you’re not a follower of Christ, you can skip this part. Or, you could try it on for size.
I believe the Way of Jesus for the very reason that he accurately describes the human condition and offers a way forward. Call me naive or foolish, but simply: Jesus in his life and death ultimately destroyed categories. He reached across party lines, not ignoring the issues, but first recognizing the people who had those issues.
Jesus knew that we could not affect change by categorical conflict, because it would be like fighting for a territory that becomes a scorched wasteland after the fight is over. It would be like handing down keys to our children for a piece of smoking wreckage.
So Jesus stopped the human cycle of binary wars by calling us all equally loved, equally dignified, and equally heard. Jesus saw each individual as a holistic, multi-dimensional, complex, conflicted person and met them in their own condition, wherever they were — because this is what grace does.
No one in this story is the hero nor the villain — for we are simply broken people in need of rescue and in need of each other. We cannot make history alone.
Without the same compassion of Christ for the people he loves, all our bravado and chest-beating is absolutely pointless. We will be buried with our picket signs without having known a single human life. We will have succeeded at minor skirmishes and stomped on human stories. We will win at social reform but still be spiritually deformed. We will legislate laws on disagreeable issues but lose the human heart — on both sides.
Dear Christian, it’s simple. Do not talk politics or principles unless you are embodying Jesus the Son of God who came to die for the world.
Please, don’t. Otherwise, you are making things worse. You are locking yourself up in an isolated ivory tower completely out of touch with the world and with broken people, and this is not sustainable. It’s nothing that Jesus died for. And you are contributing to the binary bloody crossfire of alienating our fellow human being. You are destroying the fabric of our community. You are killing Christ in a world that needs him. And no one needs your heavy-handed regurgitation of poorly composed crap from Google.
“I love gay people. Or as I sometimes call them, ‘people.'”
— Rob Delaney
The Weight of Credibility: The Burden For Compassion
I believe in a way above all ways.
If I tried to convince you not to do drugs, I’m not going to run at Capitol Hill to force more laws on you. I want to ask you about why you use them.
I want to ask why you hold this opinion and why you feel so strongly about it — not to change your mind, but to know your mind. And perhaps in mid-process, we can actually think through what we believe and come across something that might need to change, or not.
True change can never be coerced; it has to be birthed.
I recognize what I’m suggesting here is ridiculous.
A paradigm shift of this magnitude will probably never happen. I’m already imagining the disagreements with my naive simplicity and the “what-about-this” and the pushback and the death grip on our sacred opinions. Someone will call me soft, young, green, hipster, panderer.
But — I am just dumb enough to believe in change. I am crazy enough to believe in better. I am hopeful enough to believe in the full embodiment of both love and truth.
This will happen one person at a time. Every story counts. Every life matters.
We cannot be social reformers without one-on-one, face-to-face, chair-to-chair interaction: or you revoke your own right to speak.
If a teenage girl in your church is pregnant, we talk with her. Not at her. Let her know her options and your beliefs. Whatever she chooses, love her like your own daughter, sister, and blood.
We do not judge. We do not storm the abortion clinic. We do not solely declare the birth of the baby as a victory: because this teenage mother and her baby have a long road ahead, and “pro-choice” or “pro-life” don’t even begin to meet the entirety of their needs.
If a young man approaches you about his homosexual feelings, we are not going to blame the President or point out scientific studies or go into a holy monologue. We will love him, listen to him, and show him what we believe is true. Whatever he chooses, love him like your own son, brother, and blood.
We do not condemn. We do not solely declare a change of his sexuality as a victory: because no human being is merely his sexual orientation, and he will need gentleness and patience and wisdom for all the areas of his life for the rest of his life.
If you’re fighting for social reform in the legal arena, then I hope you’re also caring for girls who have had abortions and listening to teenagers confess their sexual orientations.
I hope we’re not just clamoring for faceless disembodied ideology, but that our sleeves are rolled up in the mess of hurt people.
The only credibility left is compassion.
I pray our voices be burdened with the weight of such conviction.
“My generation is gruesomely lonely, but in response, we don’t need another handout, another kind gesture, or a better bible study. We don’t need more people that will merely know our name and address or care for us sporadically and at arms length. We need big, reimagined, Jesus kind of love, and people willing to sacrifice themselves in order to live it with us. We need people who will love us enough to get messy.
So be deeply involved. Be covered in someone’s tears. Be the person who gets the call at midnight. Be the person who hears the gory details when someone’s marriage or career falls apart. Be the person who tells someone the hard stuff that they need to hear but no one wants to say. Be the person who repeatedly gets someone else’s mud and blood all over you. Be the person who goes home a little uncomfortable at night, not because of your behavior and thoughts, but because you’ve been near enough to someone else’s. Be a family member to the lonely, messy people of this world, and to my generation.”
— Josh Riebock
Photo and art at top by Ask Alice Stationery