A higher call for political manners

By Tony Kriz
New Wine Skins
A program of Multnomah Biblical Seminary.

Election seasons divide people.  They do so almost by definition: positions taken, votes collected, ideological-bases solidified (and polarized).

I fear that there is little to no hope.  Maybe for this one season, we need to accept that we live inside a high school debate class.  Tables are pushed to the edges of the room.  Two teams, defined by opposing views, are delegated.  And each of the teams retreat to their separate corners to refine their arguments and further fortify their philosophical faith.

On the other hand…

I gave a radio interview to a man who referred to himself as “a nationally known apologist for biblical truth.”  He had heard about the theme of my new book, Neighbors and Wise Men and wanted a half hour of my time.  I thought we were going to have a discussion.  I quickly learned he wanted a debate.

The theme of my book is: How people outside of my religious tradition (Christianity) have taught me the gospel and helped me walk with God.  This radio host seemed to find that theme distasteful, so he would ask me again and again, “How can you write on this topic and still hold to the true Christian dogma?”

Every time he did so, I would respond by saying, “That is a really important question, one that does not get asked enough.”  And I meant it, even though I might encourage a slightly different set of vocabulary.

There is a little known scholar from the last century by the name of C.S. Lewis.  Have you heard of him?  He wrote a little ditty called the The Four Loves and in the chapter on friendship he said:

“For us of course the shared activity and therefore the companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation. All who share it will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends. In this kind of love, as Emerson said, ‘Do you love me?’ means ‘Do you see the same truth?’”

And to this point, we might have thought that Lewis is encouraging us to retreat to our polarized corners.  But we would be wrong.  He continued:

“Or at least, ‘Do you care about the same truth?’ The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.”

To put Lewis’ point in my own words:  Friendship is not defined by having the same answers.  It is defined by caring about the same questions.

And isn’t that what an election season is really about?  Isn’t it more about a society coming together to determine the most pressing questions of our day?  Isn’t it about determining what items are of such profound importance that they demand public discourse?

So really, up until we enter the voting booth, as a society we are all voting together about what are the most important questions that we all share.

Here is my closing suggestion.  As we enter and re-enter the stage of ideology and debate, there is a powerful statement that you may want to memorize.  And here it is:

“Please forgive me, I am blind and simply cannot see this issue from your perspective.  We agree that this is an important issue.  Would you carefully explain your position again for me?”

You might find that understanding happens, compassion happens and just maybe… friendship happens.

Editor’s note: New Wine was, in large part, birthed out of conversations shared between Paul Louis Metzger and Tony Kriz (whose name you may recognize from Blue Like Jazz). Tony is now a New Wine Fellow who continues to impact our work in many significant ways. Tony’s latest endeavor is Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places. New Wine has teamed up with Windows Booksellers and Parish Collective to sponsor a celebration of the book and a conversation with Tony. Please join us for this event on Wednesday, October 24 between 4 – 7pm at Windows Booksellers (on the Multnomah University campus at 8435 NE Glisan St.). As we at New Wine gear up for our Church & State conference this weekend, here is a reflection from Tony on our current political climate. It’s a great sample of how Tony engages. We hope you’ll come continue this conversation at both the Neighbors and Wise Men book event on Wednesday, 10/24 and at Church & State on Saturday, 10/27.


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