The Common Good

Getting Beyond Labels (Part II)

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Yesterday, I posted a blog about how to get beyond labels when engaging in discourse with another individual. Today I'd like to share some tips on how to get beyond labels and have civil discourse with a group.

When addressing a group try to:

  1. Build relationships across the polarities. It's tempting to take an "us-them" stance toward Christians associated with the Religious Right, but we can't forget that all believers are joined in the body of Christ, despite political differences. We need to strengthen those bonds and build real community, instead of merely adding to the divisiveness. A beginning point is to find the common ground between you and articulate it. Don't be afraid to say, "Here's where we agree." Be explicit about the core of our faith that binds us as Christians. Often it almost seems that Christians from different streams of the church speak a different language; try to speak in language that will not be off-putting to your listener.
  2. Set up a dialogue/discussion group in your congregation to discuss the biblical and theological basis of your positions on various issues. Gathering on a regular basis can help build the trust among members of the group that will enable you to get into honest and frank conversations that can transcend partisanship and narrow categories.
  3. Preach from the pulpit on so-called social, cultural, and political issues, exploring the wisdom that scripture brings to topics from today's news.
  4. Invite a church that has a political stance differing from your own to join your congregation on a joint project or worship service. Build the relationship. Be prepared to hear from the members of the other congregation about their beliefs, and to share with them the basis of yours. A deeper, richer understanding of the gospel just might emerge.
  5. When you do things in the political/public sphere, do them as Christians. To much of the media, the word Christian has become synonymous with right wing. We need to re-establish "Christian" as a positive word that connotes caring for the poor, peacemaking, and welcoming the stranger. We should claim the moral authority that's reflected in our country's rich legacy of Christians acting as Christians on behalf of justice and peace, from abolitionists to anti-war activists and from suffragettes to freedom fighters.
  6. Support Christian organizations that offer an alternative voice to the Religious Right.
  7. Don't give up! It's easy to get discouraged by the apparent ascendancy of the Religious Right and groups such as the Tea Party movement. Be hopeful! Keep the faith! Keep fighting! Keep your eyes on the prize!

Do you have any other ideas on how to engage civilly with people who have differing views on politics? Share them in the comments section below.

Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners magazine.

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