"Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with malice, and be kind to one another..." (see Ephesians 4:29-32).
As people of faith participating in political discussions, we are called to a higher standard of engagement and interactions with our neighbors—even and perhaps especially with whom we may not see eye to eye. The example given to us by Jesus Christ provides us with the love we need to take the conversation to a different level. We can choose respect and discernment over animosity and bitterness. We can choose to listen and learn rather than attack and insult. We can choose to have peaceful discussions in the civic arena.
We do not have to avoid the hard issues. We can prepare ourselves for a better conversation by thinking about some of the following ideas to shape your conversation on difficult and emotion-filled issues of the day.
Show respect. Rather than trying to "win" the conversation, judge your success by how well you demonstrate respect for other people and for the perspectives they bring to the table. Avoid insults and personal attacks, and keep trying to return to the substance of the issue. Look for and lift up points of agreement as well as disagreement. The more respect you show for someone else's opinions, the more reason they have to respect yours.
Seek understanding. Try to understand the framework from which other people are speaking. What is their background? What is their story? Ask yourself why they see thing the way they do. Focus on what the other person is saying, rather than focusing on what you are going to say next. Ask open-ended questions that invite others to say more about why they believe what they believe.
Keep your cool. Talking about political issues often taps into strong emotions and passions in all of us. Remember to follow the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"—even when you disagree with them. Pray for God's grace to listen attentively, to speak clearly and to remain open to the vision God holds for all of us.
To the question, "Do you pray every night?" a little boy replied, "No, some nights I don't need anything." This attitude is not limited to children; adults have it, too. Of all the things Christians need, a regular prayer life must be at the top of the list.
A Christian is shaped from constant contact with God. There is no other process. A follower of Christ, therefore, who does not make prayer the love of his/her life will be hindered in their spiritual progress. The perfect example of the importance of prayer in a person's life is found in the life of Jesus Christ. He was a man of prayer. He prayed, for example, at many great events and for many different things in his life:
His baptism (Lk. 3:21)
In choosing the twelve (Lk. 6:12-13)
At his transfiguration (Lk. 9:28-29)
For the unity of all believers (Jn. 17:20-26)
About sacrifice and service (Jn. 12:23-28)
About the cross (death) (Mt. 26:36-39)
Every goal that is worthwhile in our lives; every effort that is worthwhile in the life and work of the church; every good cause that is worthwhile in the world should be prayed about. Many people find it hard to find time to pray in our modern, rushing-here-and-there society. During Jesus' ministry he was very busy. He was popular and the crowds swirled about him. He had very little time for himself. Yet he still made time to pray. He sometimes prayed alone in secret (Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:15-16) and for long periods of time (Lk 6:12). On one occasion the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Lk. 11:1ff). The Lord honored their request. Throughout the New Testament we find ample proof that the disciples not only learned how to pray, they also practiced a life of prayer.
They devoted themselves...to prayer (Acts 2:42)
Give yourselves to fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7:5)
Be clear minded...so that you can pray (1 Pet. 4:7)
Pray for each other (James 5:16)
When we pray, God is always listening; always ready to answer our request according to his perfect will. If we seek to follow the example of the early church and the Scriptures, we will live a life of prayer. In Jesus' name. Amen.