By Will Johnston
I once convinced someone to switch to my political party by berating their beliefs and saying that they must be stupid if they didn’t come around to my way of thinking.
Find that hard to believe?
Me too. It didn’t happen. I’ve actually never seen that strategy work, although that doesn’t seem to stop people from trying it out.
There’s a good chance that your small group members don’t all agree on politics. Even if you think they do, they might not actually. I’ve got friends who are tight-lipped about their politics because they live in an area where their livelihoods would be impacted if they were too open.
Things are crazy right now. We’re all a little unsettled. We’re not sure what direction our country is going or how this election season is going to play out.
You’ve probably heard the old adage to avoid discussing religion and politics in polite company, but small group isn’t polite company. At it’s best, it’s the people we can be the most real with, and politics has a real impact on our lives. It matters, and if it matters, then it’s fair game for groups.
That doesn’t mean every group needs to discuss politics, but you should be ready in case it comes up. Here are three simple guidelines to keep your group discussion from going the way of the comments on nearly every Facebook post about politics.
- Focus on “I” rather than “you” or “they.”
Keep the conversation focused on who each person supports, why they support them, and even why they don’t support the other person. For example:
- “I supported Donald Trump because I think he has the best plan for XYZ.”
- “I voted for Joe Biden because I believe he better reflects ABC.”
- “My concern about Trump/Biden is that he DEF, and I think that reveals some character issues.”
- “I understand why you would vote for Trump/Biden because of his position on HIJ, but I think XYZ is a higher priority, so that’s why I voted for Biden/Trump.
What we want to avoid are statements that disparage the other person or their positions and shut down discussion. For example:
- “I just don’t see how a Christian could support Donald Trump/Joe Biden. He’s for XYZ!”
- “All Christians should support Donald Trump/Joe Biden because ABC!”
- “Democrats/Republicans are for DEF, and that’s just plain ungodly.”
- “Jesus cares about HIJ, so Christians should support Democrats/Republicans.”
Do you see the difference there? The first set of statements expresses what I think and why I think it. The second set of statements tells everyone else that they have to agree with me.
- Jesus called us to unity, not to a political party.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be Republicans, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I love those words from Jesus, praying that we would all be Republicans so that the world may believe. Or wait… was it Democrats? Did Jesus pray we would be Democrats?
Look, I think politics is important. I used to work on Capitol Hill. I truly believe that it matters. But ultimately, Jesus called me to follow Him, and he called me to unity with other followers, even the ones I disagree with politically.
At the end of the day, the world will see there’s something different about us when we can love people with whom we disagree because of the love of Jesus.
I probably should have started with “pray,” but the truth is we may not be able to open every discussion on politics that happens in our group with prayer. Regardless, we can pray for our group’s unity ahead of time, just like Jesus prayed for the Church’s unity.
And when a political conversation starts up in our groups, we can pray silently that the words of our group members would be infused with love. We can pray that those nervous to share their thoughts would have the courage to do so, and that those who are outspoken would have the love and humility required to listen.
And sometimes, if a political discussion looks like it might heat up too much, you just might need to stop everyone, pray, and lay out some ground rules for the discussion. Feel free to use points one and two above.
Will Johnston is the Director of Build Community at Eastside Community Church in Anaheim, California. Will graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in theology, did a two-and-a-half year stint on Capitol Hill, and then joined the staff of National Community Church in Washington D.C., where he oversaw small groups.