Graceful Convictions: Living Well with One Another When We Disagree
On 10/13/2016 Transform Minnesota presented Q Commons at City Church in Minneapolis. The topic was “Engaging Our Divided Nation,” educating Christians on how they can bring hope and leadership to their communities in a critical moment for America.
As we are on the brink of one of the most controversial Presidential elections in recent history, we are seeing more and more division among Americans. With many Christians asking how can we, as Christians, think well about politics and voting? Where do policies and politics fall short? Should I even vote?
The following are remarks delivered at Q Commons by Meghann Kantke, Attorney at Gray Plant Mooty
I’m not a very gracious person. I tend to behave like the proverbial bull in a china shop. I love truth. I love telling it. I love telling it unvarnished. That may cause conflict, but conflict is sport! It’s cleansing! Not something to shy away from or avoid. (Can you tell I’m not a native Minnesotan?) And I always have an opinion – you don’t even have to ask for it.
Now, given this, I may seem a very strange choice to offer practical tips on disagreeing graciously. Obviously, the disagreeing part is no problem, but since the gracious part doesn’t come naturally to me, I have had to learn first to VALUE graciousness, and then try to live it and be it.
So, what’s graciousness? Being nice? Avoiding conflict? Pulling punches? Choosing not to think/say/ believe/affirm anything that could offend someone else?
Well, you know, Jesus offended a lot of people. On purpose. So it that can’t be it. Graciousness is something bigger, and harder, than making sure you never ruffle any feathers.
Jesus was full of truth, but he was full of GRACE and TRUTH. And he taught as one with authority. Marrying these two, holding these two—GRACE and TRUTH—in tension, and seeking to be full and overflowing with them BOTH, I believe, is how we as Christ-followers will know what to say, and when to say it, and how to say it so that we may be known by our love, even when we disagree, and when the world disagrees with us.
To me, graciousness means: KINDNESS & HUMILITY, even in the face of FEAR
I think it is fear that gets in the way of choosing kindness and humility. Do any of these fears resonate with you?
What if I’m wrong?
What if I have to change?
What if I lose something I want, or something think I’m entitled to have?
Regardless of your political persuasion, fear is running high in this election season. And truly there is much to fear. But with fear comes despair and desperation and straight-up meanness. Snarkiness and smugness. Self-righteousness and last-wordiness.
One writer has pointed out an epidemic of smugness in our American political discourse. According to this writer, the “smug style” is a “posture of disrespect: a condescending, defensive sneer toward any person or movement outside of its consensus, dressed up as a monopoly on reason.”
In the Message translation, Jesus says in Luke 6, “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.” How can we show love to the smudgy people around us if we’re sneering at them? And what are they going to learn from us except that we think we don’t care about their pain? Can we know truth, and trust it, and profess it, without lording it over those who need it? Can we be people of conviction without sneering?
The Jesus way is GRACE and TRUTH – of real kindness and honest humility without compromising our convictions.
Kindness has been undervalued by me my whole life. That is, until I became a parent. And then in a word—kind—I could sum up all the things I pray my children might become. Aware of others. Considerate of others. Respectful toward others. So confident and secure in God’s love for them that they can be genuinely happy for others. Mindful that words can hurt, and therefore careful to choose words wisely.
When I started paying attention to kindness, and thinking of it as something that’s important, not just something nicey-nice for nicey people, I started to notice how important it is to God.
What does the Lord require of you? To do justice. To LOVE KINDNESS. And to walk humbly with your God. We’re supposed to love kindness.
The fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness.
Love is patient, love is KIND.
And it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. What makes us think we can show the way, especially the way of repentance to others without showing them kindness first? The thing is, we simply cannot do love without kindness.
Kindness, for me, often means holding back. Not saying the thing. Not entering the fray. Really examining whether I’m speaking from fear rather than love, or whether the thing is really about me and not the other person. Sometimes it’s saying a different thing, paying attention to the hurt underlying a situation and responding to that instead.
This love of God, that we know is true and deep and abiding, and live-giving, and world-changing—this resurrection love—is kind. It is aware of and attentive to others’ pain, regardless of its cause. Do you notice when others are in pain? Do you think about what grieves them? Do you choose your words to avoid doing unnecessary damage, and to avoid causing unnecessary harm? This is kindness.
Now, humility. There’s a passage in Philippians that I really noticed years ago when I was praying that God would hurry up and fix my difficult roommate. She was so competitive. And I couldn’t let her win! And there it was, Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, consider others better than yourselves.” And I realized that I had never considered my roommate “better.” I had never considered that she might have something to teach me. I started racking my brain, what am I missing? What could she teach me? What could I appreciate or admire about her? And then I finally noticed that many of the things that I perceived as efforts to compete with me or one-up me were attempts to connect. To befriend. When had I ever made that effort? When had I ever been so vulnerable?
When your Facebook page is flooded with political comments and opinions that are just plain wrong, is it possible that the ones who are expressing those very wrong opinions might be “better” in some small way? Can even wrong people teach you something? On the other side of the aisle, is anyone “better”?
“Better” doesn’t have to mean right about everything. But it does mean acknowledging that we may not understand all there may be to understand. We see “through a glass darkly” after all.
When I was in college I took a class on disasters. One of the things we studied was that disasters are “compressed life,” meaning, people behave in disaster situations the same way they always do, only in more intense circumstances. If you’re cowardly in life, you’ll be cowardly in distress. If you always help the little old lady off the bus, you’ll be the one to help a little old lady out of a burning building.
I think it is the same with being gracious. If we want to be gracious with those with whom we disagree, if we want to engage a divided nation, we need to engage our divided families. We need to be gracious with our irritating roommates and bad bosses and insufferable coworkers.
We must live out the love that “does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud,” the love that “does not dishonor others.” Love that is kind.
We can start with the little old lady on the bus.
Meghann Kantke is an attorney at Gray Plant Mooty in Minneapolis. She represents employers and higher education institutions as both a litigator and an advisor, assisting in a wide range of employment, labor, and student services matters and provides guidance to institutions on matters including religious exemptions. She also serves on the Transform Minnesota board of directors.
 Emmet Rensin, “The smug style in American liberalism,” Vox, April 21, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/4/21/11451378/smug-american-liberalism (last accessed October 11, 2016).