After the Last Ballot was Cast
How to rise above the nastiness of partisan disdain… while still disagreeing.
This article originally appears on RZIM Canada's website.
Canada’s federal election recently concluded, and as Hill Times journalist Andrew Caddell explained, “This was by far the most confusing and disillusioning election of them all.” “Nasty” was the most commonly used word on social media to describe this campaign. Civil discourse and respectful debate truly seem to be at an all-time low in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and throughout the world.
One of the most famous examples of partisan disdain is Hillary Clinton’s 2016 comment referring to Republicans as “a basket of deplorables,” and one of the more recent is Donald Trump’s 2019 comment referring to Democrats leading the way on the impeachment inquiry as “human scum.” While these two comments are extreme, disdain for those who disagree with oneself is very much a universal problem. From opposing opinions on Brexit, to varying views on Canada’s energy sector, it seems today we demonize those we disagree with.
Into this highly charged world of hyper-partisanship and polarization, Ravi Zacharias’ insight that “behind every question is a questioner” helps provide the path toward changing this toxic tone. As he often reminds our team, “we don’t simply respond to questions, but to the questioner.”
Just last week at the University of Saskatchewan a student was being exceptionally abrasive to me while arguing how suffering must certainly disapprove the existence of God. I felt my face go red. As I thought through how to respond, Ravi’s words came to mind. Instead of becoming defensive, I asked her to share with me why she believes that.
She then opened up to me how she was physically abused by a pastor when she was a child. All of a sudden, we were no longer quarreling over ideas, but able to have a meaningful conversation about her life, her pain, and her progress in overcoming this trauma. We still disagreed about faith, but we were able to have a healthy 45-minute conversation about God, suffering, and evil. I was able to express how sorry I was for what this pastor did and share that God profoundly condemns such actions. In the end, we were talking as friends, not as adversaries.
Back in 2012, I realized that almost all my friends who worked with me at Parliament were working in the same political party as me. We had become an echo-chamber, confirming and re-affirming our opinions. When everyone agrees with you it’s hard to imagine you could possibly be wrong. So, I made a simple but practical decision to attend Parliamentary Committees a few minutes early, walk across the room, and chat with the people from the other political parties. Asking questions about their weekend introduced me to the names of their family members, and over time, personal struggles, setbacks, aspirations, and personal victories. It humanized them.
We need to humanize the people we disagree with by taking the time to actually get to know them.
At Parliament Hill when you meet someone the first question people ask is, “who do you work for?” Not only does that unhelpfully quickly categorize people into which party they are with, it also reduces people simply to their job. Instead, several of us intentionally began asking people questions like, “What is your name?” “What inspired you to get into politics?” and “What do you find most challenging or surprisingly good about working here?” These questions began humbling me to see the reality that everyone on every side of the aisle has a story––a story worth learning from.
We must remember that no matter how we feel about the other person, they are a person created in God’s image, worthy of respect and love. We don’t confer dignity to the person, they have that dignity already. When we humanize those we disagree with, it’s not the other person that has become more human, it’s ourselves.
Something changes in the way we relate to people when we humanize them. It doesn’t mean that we gloss over our disagreements – if anything, it may make us more earnest in trying to win them to the convictions that we believe are true. Humanizing people enables us to have real conversations because it forces us to recognize that we are speaking with a person, not simply engaging a position. As my colleague Nathan Rittenhouse recently pleaded, “We need to stop demonizing people because demons can’t be redeemed but people can be.” As Christians, we are called to be beacons of clarity that people who oppose our views or even our rights––who may even identify as the enemies of what we hold dear––are people worthy of love and redemption.
I was deeply moved by the words of my colleague, Vince Vitale, when he recently posted on Facebook asking, “In a world that has lost the civility to disagree well, perfect disagreement is found on the cross where God disagreed with us by giving his life for us. Are we willing to give our lives for those we disagree with?” This is an echo of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Jesus did not gloss over disagreements, nor pretend his enemies weren’t his enemies. He died precisely because of the reality that they were his enemies. He loved them and sought their wellbeing, even their rescue. I realize it isn’t a “they”, but an “us”. We were his enemy. Jesus’s death and resurrection is our hope to cross the great divide that not only separates people from each other, but also separates people from their Savior.