This past week, through bipartisan efforts, congressional leaders came to an agreement to fund the government through this September. Despite rumor of government shutdown, both sides were able to come to a mutually beneficial understating. According to minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), “This agreement is a good agreement for the American people and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table.”
The agreement includes policy victories for both Democrats and Republicans. Some of these included $12.5 billion in new military spending and a $2 billion boost for the National Institute of Health. However, this bill did not include funding for one of President Trump’s largest campaign promises, the wall along the border with Mexico.
Frustrated with the results of these events, President Trump tweeted this past Tuesday, “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We….either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”
Both parties responded firmly against this suggestion. “That will not happen…,” said Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), “There is an overwhelming majority on a bipartisan basis not interested in changing the way the Senate operates.” Democratic Senator Patty Murray said, “President Trump may not like what he sees in this budget deal, but it’s dangerous and irresponsible to respond by calling for a shutdown. Hopefully, Republicans in Congress will do for the next budget what they did for this one: ignore President Trump’s demands, work with Democrats, and get it done.”
The events that transpired this week were not unique to our government’s political climate. According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, the partisan gap has grown deeper and more extensive than ever before. The study found 92% of Republicans are to the right of the moderate democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the moderate Republican. Animosity has added to this in that both parties share a highly negative view of the opposing party. In 1994 only 16% of Democrats and 17% of Republicans viewed the other party as a threat to the nation’s well-being. In 2014, that number rose to 38% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans. Politics has also grown personal as nearly two-thirds (63%) of conservatives and about half (49%) of liberals say most of their close friends share their political views.
What could have brought the United States to this point? According to a study done by the Barna Group, many in our society find it difficult to have a conversation with those they disagree with. For instance, 73% of U.S. adults find it hard to have a conversation over every day topics with a Muslim in the United States. Sadly 87% of evangelicals struggle in the same way with both Muslims and LGBT supporters.
How should Christians respond? According to James 1:19 we are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” As believers we are called to prioritize listening in our interactions with others. Sixty percent of our everyday conversation is made up of listening, but humans only are able to retain twenty-five percent of that information. That means the value of listening in our everyday interaction increases considerably.
In the same way, we are called as children of God to seek peace with others (Matt 5:9). James tells us that the wisdom of God brings with it peace, mercy with those we disagree, impartiality to one perspective, and sincerity to stand for the things we know are true (James 3:17). Pursuing peace does not involve sacrificing truth; it involves sacrificing pride. Humility allows for open conversation with others we disagree with. This type of interaction allows for healthier dialogs where we can learn, grow, and love. Tim Keller once said, “Friends become wiser together through a healthy clash of viewpoint.”
In the economy of seeking to be heard, those who invest in the discipline of listening will have a greater gain in their efforts than those who exhaust their resources in the desire to speak out. In the age of polarity, the body of Christ should stand as a pillar for peace and truth. Biblically standing for these principles can be summed up in the theme of love. Love is not simply to act as a pacifist when we disagree, but love is active and is able to withstand disputes without disregarding the other individual’s personhood. The next time you disagree with someone, first listen, then learn, and finally love by sharing the gospel of peace. How can you love someone today by listening to what they have to say?