By Graham Glover –
My two favorite things to talk about are politics and religion. I am a Lutheran pastor, who years ago worked as a lobbyist, am currently working on finishing my PhD in Political Science, while serving my country as an Active Duty Chaplain in the US Army, with a wife that used to run state-level campaigns, and a father-in-law whose professional and political career has been devoted to public service. I suppose you could say such topics are part of my DNA, as they encompass so much of who I am and what I do.
There are no two topics as divisive as religion and politics. No two issues can divide a friendship, cause angst around the dinner table, or simply pit neighbor against neighbor. I know this, and yet I am always eager to engage people on these issues. The problem, however, isn’t talking about politics or religion. Such mental exercises are some of the best things a person can do. The problem is that we are often so passionate about these issues, so committed to the doctrines of our faith and the platforms of our cause, that we fail to understand and love our neighbor whose beliefs may be diametrically opposed to our own. We clash with them at the ballot box, argue with them incessantly, and proclaim their teachings to be in error. But still, these people are our neighbor. And more than anything else, religion and politics define who we are, how we act, and in turn, how we treat one another.
This is why each of us should pause and consider what it is truly like to walk in our neighbor’s political and religious shoes. I don’t mean just listening to what they have to say or reading what they profess. I mean stepping completely outside your set of beliefs and seriously considering your neighbor’s way of thinking and living.
I am by no means above reproach on this issue. I am guilty of violating my plea almost every week. But here are a few instances in my life where what I’m suggesting has resulted in valuable personal lessons about who my neighbor is and how, despite our strong differences, we can serve one another.
A few years ago I served alongside a female chaplain. This chaplain outranked me and has a wealth more parish and Army experience than I. One day, during a long car drive, we discussed female Army Chaplains. My peer knew well that I do not believe women should assume the Office of the Holy Ministry. My denomination teaches that such an office, as the Holy Scriptures and the church catholic teach, is not set aside for women. Nonetheless, there are female Protestant clergy and consequently, female Army Chaplains. This is a reality I knew when I joined the Army, and while I passionately disagree with women assuming this office in the theological realm, I must accept them without reservation as my peers in the civil (Army) realm. Our discussion that day centered on the discrimination she had and continues to face as a female chaplain. I naïvely suggested this can’t be the case and to stop making mountains out of molehills. I assumed that no matter how one felt theologically, they must accept women as equal in the Army. After my female chaplain peer shared several examples, I came to understand this is clearly not the case. But for me to understand this, to appreciate the struggles my peer experienced, I had to set aside my beliefs about women’s ordination. I had to put myself in her shoes, to listen to her stories, to assume – even if only for purposes of the conversation – her beliefs. Only when I did this could I truly become her neighbor, to be one that while disagreeing with her, could serve with and alongside her.
Last week, after my post on President Obama’s recent political successes, I had a close friend text me about his family’s financial struggles with Obamacare. I still believe in the premise of national health care and that our government has a moral obligation to provide health care to all of its citizens. But that portion of my article was short on specifics. My friend, whose wife I have known since I was 11 and whose wedding I preached, enlightened me to the very real financial struggles they are now facing because of this new law. They are both self-employed and are confronted with premiums, deductibles, and co-pays that are significantly higher than before. I believe these issues can be addressed, but in the meantime my friends will feel the pinch. Significantly. My platitudes did not consider their actual living. My politics did not consider the real-world struggles they are now facing. I could have responded with a savvy political answer or a passionate argument to my position, but neither would have solved what is now a very real problem for my friends.
A former roommate of mine from college came out as a homosexual a few years after we graduated. We did not see one another for years, but recently ran into one another and had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours talking over breakfast. This friend knows how I feel about his sexual orientation. However, our conversation that day didn’t address the issue that likely would have resulted in two friends never talking to one another again. Rather, we discussed how we can mutually accept our beliefs and seek common goals (in this instance, political ones). We didn’t focus on that which divides us, rather on the countless other things that unite us. That morning I had to step way outside of my comfort zone and accept my friend for who he is, in order that we could once again become neighbors. If I did not do this, the conversation would have ended, and with it, the good that I pray came from it.
I’m sure many of you have similar examples. I think the conversations that take place on The Jagged Word illustrate what I’m suggesting.
Make no mistake, religion and politics will continue to divide us. This division will never end. But how we treat those who disagree with us, how we love our neighbor that stands against things sacred to us, speak volumes about who we are and the faith and politics that we represent.