This morning, I had the honor to address the congregation at RISE. I was asked to speak briefly in response to the question “what are you waiting for?” Although there are, in fact, a number of things that I’m waiting for, not surprisingly I decided to talk about politics.
Although I prefer to speak only using a few talking points, I decided to jot down the entirety of today’s talk. To follow is what I offered (with a few spur of the moment modifications):
To put it succinctly, I would say I’m waiting for increased dialogue, tolerance, and understanding. Unfortunately, in our society there are generally two topics that are considered taboo. The first is religion, which I assume you all are okay discussing given where we are this Sunday morning. The second is politics. For those who don’t know me, I work in politics and would like to speak with you about politics. The exit doors are in the back assuming you feel the need to take this moment to run screaming from the sanctuary.
Anyway, as stated, our society tends to shun discussion of both religion and politics. Both of these topics evoke strong emotions and our differences tend to drive people apart. I know growing up here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I developed a deeply conservative set of beliefs and formed my social circles around like-minded individuals. I was generally friendly to those who agreed with me and didn’t much care for those who didn’t…to put it mildly. That’s the way I was taught and how I assumed society operated.
After graduating from William & Mary, I worked as a political pollster in Charlottesville. Once I had been there about a year, one of my liberal managers discovered my political leanings. As a result, every day he would come by my desk and label me either a Nazi or a Klansman. It didn’t take too many episodes before my heart became completely calloused; hate for those who were different from me flowed as naturally as the blood in my veins. It wasn’t merely directed to my boss, coupled with previous experiences, I developed an exceedingly unfavorable view of liberals and didn’t have much use for libertarians either.
But, as time went on, and my adventures in politics continued, my thoughts began to shift. I reasoned that if God has granted us free will to love him or reject him and to live our lives as we see fit, how could I promote policies that strip away our God-given liberties and surrender this power to the government? Just as important, how can anyone grow, learn, and expand if he or she surrounds him or herself with only like-minded individuals? Whether Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or independent are we not all made in the image of our creator, not defined merely by a political label, but by our hopes and dreams for a better life and a better world?
Several months ago, I attended a political gathering that included members of the church I attended growing up. During their discussion, some attendees expressed a strong hatred for our president and the Muslim community. After all, as one speaker commented, every follower of Islam is merely a terrorist in waiting, right? As I sat there listening to this vitriol, I thought to myself, “good God! Is this who I used to be?” I wanted to turn to the eighteen-year-old sitting to my left absorbing it all who reminded me of a younger version of myself and yell. “Run! Don’t let this poison seep into your soul!”
Generations ago, it was socially acceptable to a hate person solely based upon the color of her skin. Why is it today that it is still acceptable, and perhaps even celebrated in the media, to hate a person based upon the color of her politics?
Friends, I’m not encouraging you to abandon either your religious or political beliefs or hide them in a box. Dialogue is important and participation in our political system ought to be celebrated, not scorned. There is nothing inherently wrong about being a liberal, a libertarian, or a conservative, but hold some measure of respect for those who think differently. Now, this line of thinking isn’t particularly popular and has led some of my friends to question whether or not I have lost my mind. You likely cannot image some of the hateful messages I received when, as a long-time Republican staffer, I sought and accepted a job with a Libertarian candidate during this last election cycle. I’ve also heard it said that Christian virtue has no place in American politics. Still others think that these are the thoughts of an unrealistic dreamer.
If I may quote the song Dreamer by Ozzy Osbourne.
“If only we could all just find serenity
It would be nice if we could live as one
When will all this anger, hate, and bigotry
I’m just a dreamer
I dream my life away
I’m just a dreamer
Who dreams of better days
I’m just a dreamer
Who’s searching for the way”
Let me close my thoughts with a few bits of advice from the book of Romans. After all, its author, the Apostle Paul, experienced an even more radical shift in his outlook on life.
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.” Romans 12:17-18
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” Romans 12:2
So, as I stated at the beginning, I implore you, whatever your political persuasion may be, if any, please strive to expand dialogue, tolerance, and understanding. Yes, differences in opinion are natural, but hatred need not be. I hope we don’t have to wait much longer for this dream; after all, transformation starts in the hearts of each of us.
I greatly appreciated the opportunity to speak to the RISE community and hope to do so again.
Until Christmas, each week a member of the congregation will offer his or her thoughts on the subject “what are you waiting for?” I hope you’ll consider joining us next Sunday as we continue to explore this topic.