Tune into any news media outlet today and at least one report will pertain to the physical violence and aggression that has come from the country’s rising political temperature: “Explosive devices sent to the President’s critics,” “Activists attack Nevada campaign manager,” “Congressional candidate body slams reporter,” “Powdery substance delivered to Senators office, sends 2 to hospital” or “Gunman opens fire on Republican Congressional Baseball Practice.”
As we near Election Day and people head to the polls, the divisiveness and partisan attacks are reaching epic proportions. To help interrupt this downward cycle, the most important thing you can do before you cast your vote is build relationships and have respectable conversations with people who think differently than you.
America is divided into silos. In 1976, less than 25 percent of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide. However, in 2016, 80 percent of U.S. counties produced landslide victories – a statistic that has only increased since the election of Barack Obama.
Now more than ever, we have shaped the places we reside to reflect our values and political beliefs. Yet the more tribal and homogenous we become, the more radical and prone to extremism we become as well.
How do we live in the context of such madness? More importantly, how do we cast our ballot as believers in a way that advances the Kingdom?
I am not about to tell you to vote Democrat or Republican, but you should start talking to both parties. Without being intentional in developing diverse relationships within your own community, you will never find an escape from the deafening echo chambers of toxic discourse. We often miss so much when we’re comfortable.
We are living in divisive times and if we have any hopes at meaningful progress, one specific thing we can do is identify seven influential neighbors. Pull from a diverse spectrum so you learn as much as you can. This runs deeper than skin color: consider generational, cultural, theological, political, socioeconomic or gender differences.
Understanding seven influential neighbors means investing in diverse relationships. This is the most practical and foundational solution to our disunity. It might sound simple, but it’s certainly not easy. This isn’t about finding one token friend from a different political camp or cultural background. It’s a true commitment to discomfort and investing in other people.
After you find seven influential neighbors, it is time to start talking, and more importantly listening. The goal is learning, not winning. This means coming to the table with the humility to see the world through a different lens.
With our seven influential neighbors, we must learn to craft roundtable environments and set the stage for controlled dialogue. This is the sort of group conversation where individuals are able to suspend their own ideas and perspectives to allow others to give feedback into their presuppositions. This is a group dynamic where ideas do not define identity and learning can occur through an openness to hear what others bring to the table. In discussion one sub-group or individual wins, but in dialogue everyone wins.
Roundtable environments don’t mean there won’t be sparks! This is what I imagine Solomon meant when he wrote, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Genuine relationships between diverse individuals challenge and stretch us. It is okay to engage with energy and passion as long as we remember how we engage matters more than the issues at hand. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
The body of believers was not designed to be a single-flavored group. As God envisions it, the body is a bouquet, bursting with diversity of language, smells, traditions, clothing styles and music. Reaching beyond your circles will change your whole framework and give you a greater sense of ownership and responsibility undergirding your civic duty of participating in the Election process. Investing in meaningful, authentic relationships with other believers is the most practical way to steward your vote, to walk in your calling and become the Church God designed us to be.
Adapted from Designed For More book, Faithwords 2018. For more from Lucas Ramirez, visit, www.LucasRamirez.org or @TheLucasRamirez