One of the best things about the Christmas season is the way it seems to soften our rough edges. Most of us tend to be a little less demanding, a little more generous and a little less focused on ourselves this time of year.
What would it be like if we could carry this advent season attitude adjustment into our public discourse – and make it permanent? Here are my prescriptions for elevating our discussions about politics and public policy. (Hey, media: I'm talking to you, too!)
- Don't assume the worst about those who disagree with you. We have such a bad habit of demonizing people because they disagree with us about issues. Christians who hold to Scripture's teachings on gender, marriage and the family are referred to as "bigots" or "haters." I know there are plenty of truly bigoted, hateful people out there, but it is simply wrong to make this assumption about everyone who has opted out of our culture's redefining of these fundamental concepts.For another example, listen to how the left talks about conservatives who object to expanding big government programs designed to alleviate poverty and other societal problems. Liberals assume that anyone who opposes the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid expansion is cold-hearted or selfish. But the reality is that while conservatives oppose the big government programs, our demographic is also the most highly engaged in all forms of private, personal charity.
- Be gracious to others in their failures. Let's face it: we all have moral failures. Yes, some are more significant than others, and carry more serious consequences. But as a culture, we are unbecomingly cruel and unforgiving when our public figures' failings are exposed.Of course they should be held accountable for their wrongdoing just like everyone else. But when they are willing to acknowledge and turn from the offensive behavior, we should show them the same warmth of forgiveness and grace that we all hope to receive for ourselves and our loved ones.
- Accept that people grow and change. Rejoice in it. It is an unfortunate characteristic of our body politic that we tend to tag anyone who changes his or her position on an issue as a flip-flopper – or assume that the alleged "change" is really just political posturing.This tendency fails to account for the fact that it really is possible for us, as human beings, to grow, mature and even completely reverse our thinking, particularly on public policy issues. This capability is a good thing. We should welcome it; not ridicule it.
- Acknowledge the good in others, and don't mischaracterize their positions. Too often we seem to assume that if we acknowledge the noble intentions of our political opponents or the merit in their ideas, we'll somehow betray our own position. This leads to an ugly, polarized and fruitless kind of public discourse.Is it really impossible for the left to identify a single positive action or idea from the Trump administration? And as for the right, let's acknowledge that there are good, kind intentions behind the left's push to provide health care and other goods and services for the poor – even if we completely disagree on who should provide these goods and services or how.In the same vein, let's resist the urge to mischaracterize our political opponents' positions – to create straw man arguments that are easy for us to knock down. Take, for instance, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Those who would force baker Jack Phillips to craft a cake for a wedding that violates his religious beliefs describe the case as being about Jack's "denial of service" to the gay couple. But in fact, Jack was willing to serve them anything from his shop but a custom-made wedding cake.
Let's be honest about what's really at issue.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated. This one really sums up all of the others. As we learned from the person whose birthday we celebrate this season, if we endeavor to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, we will be living the way our Creator designed us to live.What we all need to remember is that "loving our neighbor as ourselves" isn't an idea meant to be confined to the privacy of our homes, churches and circles of friends. It's the rule that should govern our behavior in the public square as well.