That Thing About Assumptions

Things get tense in my house every four years, around this time. As the presidential primaries and caucuses begin, my husband and I must renew the strange little political dance that gets us through these seasons, with our marriage intact.

We’ve known, since before we married over twenty years ago, that we play for opposing political teams. That knowledge informs our way through these dangerous partisan procedures. While there are moments in our house of intense and animated dialogue that are fueled by our opposing views (which makes our son run and hide), we are mostly able to wade through presidential primary season without any significant damage done to body or spirit.

Given my long history of relationship with “the other side,” I am sensitive to how people talk and engage with political issues, especially in reference to those with whom they disagree. Over my ten years of ministry at Old South in Hallowell, Maine, I’ve noticed that there’s an awareness—mostly unspoken—that there are differences in political leanings among the individuals who gather in that church. People are wary, then, of engaging in discussions that are clearly political, lest a disagreement lead to a disruption in congenial relationship. But when a political discussion does take place, it is—at least what I’ve witnessed—respectful and thoughtful.

Beyond home and Old South, though, I notice no such respect, or wariness. For example, in a local Bible study group that includes people from several area churches, including Old South, there are a couple of people (not from Old South) who speak clearly from their Democratic Party viewpoint, as if everyone in the group is in agreement. They’ve even gone so far as to imply, on occasion, that Democrats are right and Republicans are stupid.

There are a couple of problems with this: 1. I don’t think everyone in that Bible study is a Democrat and it’s problematic to make such assumptions, and, 2. I don’t think it’s okay for Christians, any Christians, to engage in political discussions that cast one side as in possession of truth and the other side full of danger and folly, that there’s one side that works for the common good and the other only for the good of a few.

We may choose a political side as the best path that represents the values we hold dear, but that doesn’t mean that we favor a political party that is in full possession of truth and justice. And, we ought to take more care in the assumptions that we make, around friends and neighbors, around meeting tables and Bible studies.

My husband and I are able to get through this season by taking some care in how we discuss what is going on and by recognizing that there are limits to the practice of virtue in any political party. While I know that his side is often misguided, there is significance in recognizing that my side is often misguided as well (though perhaps not as often as his!).

In the angry and hostile political rhetoric that is heating up in this season, we don’t need more people contributing to the animosity. Instead, we need more people who are thoughtful enough to recognize that we get little actually accomplished by seeing our own side as inherently good while the other side is inherently, and irredeemably, bad. We need more people who take the Golden Rule seriously, that we are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves—even when they don’t share our politics.

Let’s put our assumptions aside and open the door to more meaningful dialogue. It’s crystal clear that such dialogue is woefully lacking and desperately needed.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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