A couple of week ago, I met with one of my doctors who has become a friend. He shared that his two children who are attending Ivy League schools no longer talk to him because of his political positions. He hopes that things will calm down after the election, but right now there is so much anger between them that they have decided not to visit or talk with each other.
I am blessed to have four daughters who are married or have boyfriends. I must confess that our discussions have become more intense now that my daughters are older, and they have added their partners to the conversation. I welcome discussions on political candidates and issues, but I never ask how they are going to vote nor do I tell them how I am going to vote. We do not uphold the statement that one should never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. Other families abide by that rule, but ours is not in that camp.
A number of years ago, British philosopher Os Guinness wrote a book entitled The Case for Civility and Why Our Future Depends on It. If this book was needed in 2008 when it was published, how much more is it needed today? Guinness starts the book with a quote from a speech that President John Kennedy gave at American University in 1963: “So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct our attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Since I am writing this article during the week of Columbus Day, I tried greeting various people with a “Happy Columbus Day!” It is a loaded greeting. I have read enough about Columbus to be aware of the pros and cons. Italians and Europeans tend to have a more favorable opinion of Columbus, because they did not experience the negative consequences of his arrival in America. The 15th and the 16th centuries were times of exploration. There were Christians who were concerned for the salvation of other people, so they went to other lands as missionaries. There were kings and wealthy people who were strictly concerned about becoming richer and invested in these explorations, and there were military people who went in search of glory. It was similar to people investing in Wall Street today—sometimes your investment or expedition was successful and bore fruit; other times, you lost tremendously.
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Almost any issue that the presidential candidates talk about can become inflammatory. Social Security, ACA, open or closed borders, the Supreme Court—you name it, and people have passionate opinions about it. There is nothing wrong with passion, but passion has to be controlled and connected to good thinking to result in improvements for the country in which we live.
One of the passages of Scripture that has guided my life in the pulpit, my public discourse, and my political decisions was written by Paul to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is admirable or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
Thus, at our family table discussions, we talked about both candidates for president in 2020, and whether they met these criteria found in Philippians 4:8-9. We came to the conclusion that both candidates and their campaigns have used some bald-faced lies. President Trump lied about many things and so did former Vice President Biden. They lied about their personal lives and decisions, their families, their accomplishments, and their visions for their presidency. The American people have become accustomed to the fact that campaign promises are not always carried out once the president is elected. Is there a possibility that our candidates lie so often that we no longer expect the truth from them? Is there a campaign truth and a governing truth? Perhaps the problem is larger than just our government—do we no longer tell the truth at all or expect other people to tell us the truth? We need those examples that Paul presents—whatever you heard from me or seen in me—put into practice by everyone, including politicians.
In the midst of this intense season of political campaigning, people who digress from the norms within their own political parties are quickly accused of not being loyal. For example, ex-Obama advisor Van Jones said that current President Donald Trump had “done good stuff for the black community,” and was swiftly accused of being anti-Democratic. There are people who have even claimed that he should no longer be featured on CNN due to this statement.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Christian evangelical professor Dr. Ron Sider wrote a blog post saying that abortion is not the most important issue. He stated that being pro-life also requires protecting the lives of immigrants, people without access to health insurance, and people condemned to death by the judicial system. People within the Christian community were angered by Sider’s words and questioned his commitment to Christianity.
The more we listen to the debates and the nasty accusations that politicians and members of various groups and political parties hurl at each other, the more we yearn for the days when we told the truth to one another and our word was our bond. When one of my children left for college, we had a conversation in which I said to her, “The only thing between you and me from now on is the truth spoken to me. When I ask you what you did, please tell me the truth. I would be more hurt if I found out from other people that you did not tell me the truth, than for you to tell me the truth, no matter how difficult or painful it might be.”
In a few days, the election will be over. One candidate will win, and we pray that the other will accept defeat graciously. Families will start talking about other subjects and the President, the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court will function in the best way they can and carry out what they perceive to be the best decisions for the American people. We can only hope that the American political system and American people will grow more civil and truthful in their discourse and actions.