This Thanksgiving I tried an experiment. My daughter and I had been invited to share a meal with friends. One of their daughters had invited friends from college. After a lovely meal, I asked them, “So, who is everybody voting for in the primary elections.” After nervous laughter, everybody gave an answer, and I don’t think any of us were voting for the same person! We had a short discussion of the merits of each candidate and moved on to enjoying some fierce competition in board games. Not a single punch was thrown, no table was overturned, and not a tear was shed. The experiment was a success. Reasonable people can disagree about important things and remain respectful.
I was reminded of my little experiment when I heard of a college where a group of students was trying to form a political club. The group is called Turning Point, USA. I confess that I had never heard of them, but discovered that their platform revolves around limited government. They certainly don’t seem provocative. However, the student government in the college denied them the opportunity to start a chapter because their views were judged to be “hateful and potentially harmful or offensive to students.” It is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s polarized society to disagree without being labeled “intolerant,” “bigoted” and “hateful.” As a result, many very wise voices have been silenced.
I believe that debate and civil discourse are critically important in a democratic society. When we listen to others, especially those who hold different views, we grow in our understanding. When we defend our opinions, we have to grow in knowledge and the ability to articulate what we believe.
A few weeks ago, I heard a father explaining some political points to his very young daughter in a restaurant. I didn’t agree with very much that he said, but I was glad he was taking the time to teach his daughter what he believed about politics, history and government. That little girl is forming her political views. She may end up abandoning the views of his father, or she might hold fast to them. Either way, that father was bearing witness that we can express views in public places without being afraid, and if people disagree with us, well that doesn’t hurt us.
As a pastor, I encourage people of faith to become educated voters, and to dare to discuss issues in the public sphere. Jesus said that we are to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. He was talking about taxes, but in addition to taxes, we owe our society the thoughtful, courageous and respectful expression of our point of view.