Couple not getting alongStill recovering from the media blitz of midterm elections, you may soon find yourself sharing a holiday meal with someone who cast a vote you cannot fathom. In a poll conducted in 2020 by The Economist, 38 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans reported that they would feel somewhat or very upset at the prospect of their child marrying someone from the opposite party. Other polls have shown that one in six Americans have ended a friendship or cut off contact with a family member over political disagreements.

Grace gets put to the test when we find ourselves confronted with people who are different from us. Do we welcome them and treat them with respect? I think of the people attracted to Jesus: “heretics” (Samaritans), foreigners (a Roman officer), outcasts (prostitutes, tax collectors, the ritually unclean, those with leprosy). Remarkably, Jesus found a way to treat them with dignity and respect without compromising his beliefs or his character.

Contrast Jesus’ spirit with what we see in modern politics. During her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton described half of Donald Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables…They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.” Trump responded in kind, calling his opponents “deranged,” “human scum,” and “enemies of the people.”

As the U.S. grows increasingly more pluralistic, followers of Jesus will need to adapt to living with people who don’t share our outlook. Some groups view us with hostility, as cranky obstructionists who want to impose our outdated morality on a progressive culture. Instead of bemoaning these changes, we have the opportunity to model a healthier approach for a divided society. Two basic principles may guide us in that daunting task.

1) Politics and God’s Kingdom operate by different rules.

In recent elections most evangelical Christians have voted Republican. Yet a timely article in Christianity Today* reminds us that Bible-believing Christians have influenced both major parties. The Democratic Party has led the way in civil rights legislation, as well as in addressing poverty, racial justice, health care, and earth care. The Republican Party has championed the principles of religious liberty, protection for the unborn, and the importance of marriage and family.

At the same time, both parties support some policies that are hard to square with biblical teaching. And neither party devotes much attention to such problems as greed, dishonesty, marital infidelity, divorce, alcohol abuse, gambling, and pornography. Many concerns of the Kingdom of God don’t easily fit into a political agenda.

Politics thus operates in a limited sphere, and it advances by carving out compromises between opposing lobbies. Christians, driven by ideology, tend to see moral issues in black-and-white. Furthermore, we have little guidance on how to apply our beliefs in a pluralistic society. The New Testament has much to say about the behavior of Jesus followers, but nothing about how to legislate morality in the diverse Roman Empire.

Politics is an adversary sport, and Christians are still learning how to play it. In 1989 I interviewed Dr. C. Everett Koop, the nation’s Surgeon General at the time. His appointment had stirred up bitter controversy, for he was known as a strict opponent of abortion. Once in office, however, Koop had to weigh his own beliefs against what was best for the country, while also considering what would be politically plausible.

Dr. C. Everett KoopHe told me, “One of the problems with the pro-life movement is that they are 100-percenters. Historically it is true that if the pro-life movement had sat down in, say, 1970 or 1972 with the pro-choice people, we might have ended up with an agreement on abortion for the life of the mother, defective child, rape and incest, and nothing more. That would have saved ninety-seven percent of the abortions since then. Ninety-seven percent of twenty-five million [abortions] is a lot of babies.”

Koop showed me some of the hate mail he received daily from Christians who saw him as a compromiser for meeting with abortion advocates and for devoting so many resources to AIDS patients.

In more recent days Dr. Francis Collins, a devout Christian, has led the Human Genome Project and directed the National Institutes of Health. Somehow he managed to serve in a way that pleased five different presidents: Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden. His gracious spirit and professional accomplishments won over detractors who had opposed his nomination because of his Christian beliefs. Collins, like Koop, admits that his worst hate mail came from fellow Christians—in his case for promoting the use of masks and vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We need to remember the advice of Martin Luther King, Jr.  He said that Christians should enter the realm of politics when we have an issue worth fighting for, but we should fight with different weapons, “the weapons of grace.”

2) Understanding others begins with deep listening.

Valarie Kaur on getting along

Valarie Kaur, an activist who grew up in a Sikh family in California, writes about relating to adversaries in her book See No Stranger. “Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear. The most critical part of listening is asking what is at stake for the other person. I try to understand what matters to them, not what I think matters.”

As I read Valarie’s words, I realized I do this instinctively as a journalist, in an attempt to coax from my interview subjects an accurate picture of who they are. Yet when I engage with a friend or family member, my defenses go up and I want to interrupt or rebut them. I have to force myself to attend to their perspective before presenting my own. Listening to the heartfelt story of, say, a transgender person, or a woman who has undergone an abortion, helps reveal “the other” as a fellow human being rather than a stereotype.

Listening is key to getting along

Kaur continues, “How do we listen to someone when their beliefs are disgusting? Or enraging? Or terrifying? …An invisible wall forms between us and them, a chasm that seems impossible to cross.… In these moments, we can choose to remember that the goal of listening is not to feel empathy for our opponents, or validate their ideas, or even change their mind in the moment. Our goal is to understand them.”

Maybe that person will in turn wonder about me, and listen to my point of view. Or, maybe they won’t. Kaur adds, “It doesn’t matter as long as the primary goal of listening is to deepen my own understanding. Listening does not grant the other side legitimacy. It grants them humanity—and preserves our own.”

By deep listening, we lay a path for grace to do its work.

Dr. Diana Pavlac Glyer, a professor at Azusa Pacific University, tells of an occasion when a conversation with a good friend escalated into an argument involving tears, screaming, and rude accusations. After about an hour and a half, the friend looked at her and said, “I completely and utterly disagree with you, but I love the reasons why you believe what you do.”

US Mexico border wall

I can envision a similar conversation in which someone opposed to illegal immigration says to an opponent, “I completely disagree with you about a border wall, but I love the compassion you have for families who leave their home country to give their kids a chance to escape the violence there.” Or, a response from the other side of the political spectrum: “I utterly disagree with you about abortion, but I love your consistency in caring for human lives, even the unborn.”

Although such conversations will rarely change another’s mind, they may in time help build a bridge over a chasm that seems impossible to cross. In a nation as divided as ours, we have to start somewhere.






*Christianity Today article:

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28 responses to “Getting Along”

  1. Mark Fitzgerald says:

    Great stuff Philip! Enjoyed your memoir too. Just wondering, have you checked out Jordan Peterson yet?

  2. Calvin says:

    Thought provoking and challenging once again. Thank you for this. As a South African this is still a big challenge for us as a nation to grapple with. Issues of sexuality, illegal immigration, political differences given our history. You are either on the left or the right and we have to get better at listening. Thank you.

  3. Ken Steckert says:

    “Politics is an adversary sport, and Christians are still learning how to play it.” Hmmmm … If Christian has anything to do with the namesake, not sure why any attempts are being made in this sport.

    Great reminder in understanding begins with deep listening. All very good, and very much missing today on all sides. And Christians who look like the namesake should be leading in modeling this.

  4. To “love deeply”, as Jesus taught Peter,
    requires an ocean of humility. Thus, in grief and belief, Peter tore off his clothes, jumped off the boat, and swam to Jesus waiting on the shore.
    Word of love=God Power.
    Meredith Bunting

  5. Rose Mason says:

    I sorely needed to see this.
    I recently read something by someone that I like. I immediately disagreed.
    Fumed about her ideas for a full day.
    Later, read something that I thought was more peaceful, forgave myself for my instant ire.

    Listening to respond. Instead to listening to talk. Can be very challenging.
    I loved the responses from others as well.
    Will pull down: What’s So Amazing about Grace. Time to give it a re-read.
    Thanks for your kind words. You are a balm in Gilead.

  6. Bradley Robertson says:

    Hi Philip, Thank-you for your consistent growth in too deep grace and sharing your journeys with us who are reaching for this.
    I sit here today on the 41st anniversary of my life being invaded and rescued by God. The concept of Grace was introduced in to my virgin Christ following ways by that phrase oft sung “Amazing Grace, how sweet that sound that saved a wretch like me”. I knew this was as true as it was saying, however I have spent (at great human expense of loss after loss that included attacks upon my character and insinuations of ‘not being them’ ~ the images and institutions of whatever these modern christians defined). You name it, and I have experienced it. I would have to say that the greatest pains I have suffered within these 41 years have pretty well come from within the halls of Christianity. Yes, I have contributed to many erroneous and misguided representations within this religion as well. My soul was always torn when these events came and left. There were sprinkles of deeply graceful people amongst these religious storms. I recall them with fondness and sirens calling me to something that smelled, tasted and acted like what I imagine Jesus would be like. Your writings are included inside these moments of clarity and calling. Thank-you! I have sought to be inside this contemplative calling … and I’m told that I was … in many cases. However, I must confess that I felt like (looking back) that I was often in what psychologist’s coin a “pre-contemplative” frame of mind. Most often, when I finally ‘saw the light’, I did a 180 degree turn after I realized the error of my ways (and/or the imbued ways I had unknowingly adopted). My mantra became “if this is hurting someone or people group I need to stop and assess myself and my doctrines in light of the revealed Jesus of Scriptures. Not an easy task. I sadly discovered that this Jesus was rebranded and appropriated by powers both obvious and subtle means and ways. I did all of this while caring for serious needs amongst my wife’s family. We raised our 1rst child amidst what was later to be discovered as the *Bill Gothard christian cult. Horrible stuff happened inside that group, and by extension those they were led to believe they must ‘witness’ too. There are many more stories of injustices done amongst other christian groups. I became their enemies because I spoke out against these un-Christ-like injustices. Nevertheless, without extended family support (for we both were born inside of very broken homes), and our christian family(s) who were cold hearted institutionalized collectives of maintaining their status quo. We became wilderness travellers seeking for the promised land of christian family. We have not, at this time, found that home literally. We have, however, found this Christian family amongst other wilderness travellers and doers via books, blogs, podcasts, and youtube. Our Grace for even our ‘enemies’ (their description) has deepened and we have been instructed in the deep valleys of humility. This is not an easy place to live traversing in this imprecatory wilderness. But it is better than the alternative of becoming an eye for an eye. Call it ~ de-construction; re-construction or heresy if you must (not you, I’m sure) I know this in my bones, Jesus must be my filter, especially when one grasps the enormacy of His 108,405 days (plus or minus) living and ministering, loving and receiving the worst humans could conjure. He knew this coming inside this game of life/loss. There was redemption, rescue, and reconciliation all acted out in words and deeds. Kindness was the cry of His Life. Kind-ness … His Kind-ness and we must ‘make-believe’ this within this wilderness of traveling this side of Heaven. Thy kingdom come … even so … come quickly … Lord Jesus! I’m now 62 and this is still true and that is about as deep as I see it thus far. Thank-you again old son. Sensorially your distant brother. Brad

  7. David says:

    Great article. Been reading Dr M L Jones “From Fear to Faith” which is a meditation on Habakkuk. Interesting how God used the Babylonians to admonish the Jews in war and then ultimately suppressed the Babylonians Very challenging to see the current world through this lens. Requires true revelation.

  8. Dianne Lami says:

    As soon as your blog pops up in my email inbox, I open it with great anticipation, knowing I’ll be challenged to think more deeply and differently. Again, with this blog post I was not disappointed. In fact, I have just placed an order for the book you cited by Valerie Kaur.

    I have been praying for the opportunity to dialogue with a person of an opinion different from mine, to practice that much needed art of deep listening. I totally agree that Jesus just didn’t ‘go there’ on politics, both in the synagogue/church and in the public square. His one on one conversations were always on matters of the heart, not matters of current culture. Human hearts haven’t changed. Culture has over the years.

    Thank you for continuing to encourage us to think, to seek, to go outside our comfort spaces and extend grace to all whom God puts in our path.

  9. Torrey Peterson says:

    UnChristlike behavior is never justified and neither is apathy in the face of evil. Our fellow citizen is not our enemy, but the philosophy of the world is most definitely our enemy.
    For perspective, imagine the evil of the day were not abortion, homosexuality etc, but 1800’s American slavery. I wonder if the same tolerance would be advocated?

  10. Kam says:

    Humility is hard to come by….
    With examples like yours, I have hope we all grow in that direction

  11. Colleen Brewer says:

    Thank you again for sharing such an urgent message for our Christian community. Sadly, I have witnessed more grace from non-believers than from the church. Your messages have been encouraging to me over many years addressing matters of the heart.

  12. Laurie says:

    It seems to me that there is a place of belonging for those at either political extreme in this country. Evangelicals can gather in churches, sing praises to God, worship in “spirit and truth”, then go home and write hate mail to those with whom they vehemently disagree politically. Progressives can hurl insults and denigrate Christians, shining a spotlight on their hateful hypocrisy while establishing themselves as morally righteous. Two camps, separated by a deep, dank, dark chasm where I believe a majority of people, Christian or not, find themselves in America in these times. Where is our place of belonging if we love Jesus AND a woman’s right to chose for herself? Where do we find a place of support and empathy if we desire a church family AND cannot do other than to love and defend our homosexual or transgender child, and believe they are precisely who God created them to be? Whose citizens are we if we hold that it is entirely possible to live as a Christian in a Secular world…and in peace!?

    I choose to be a chasm dweller over claiming citizenship in either realm of extremists. I will never belong in a camp of God deniers. And I will flee from any church that preaches politics from the pulpit. I want to be a bridge builder, but I find it to be a daunting task indeed!

  13. Mary Glawe says:

    I am challenged often by the gift of listening to another. Thank you for this timely reminder that it is my gift to another to honor their heart and not my job to change it. Love takes emotional effort.

  14. Deryn says:

    Absolutely agree. People, seldom take the time to listen, too pre-occupied with themselves, and their mobile phones, already creating distance. When was the last time someone actually stopped, looked me in the eye and listened to what I had to say?

  15. Ginny Kreeft says:

    Thank you, Philip, for the two most important basics of moving forward in our contentious world. My son, who worked for the UN in Turkey on the Syrian conflict and who tragically died suddenly in an accident last January, was a prime example of how excellent and loved he was for the work in did by adhering to these two principles. What a difference our relationships on every level would be if we all embraced and practiced them daily.

    Grace, listening, grace, understanding, and grace again. “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” It is the first book I read of yours and it has made a huge impact on my life as a human and as a Christian. Thank you.

  16. Roxy Wiley says:

    Thank you, Philip. Well said.

  17. Angela Barberg says:

    Philip, I read more of your books than any other author. You are one of the most gentle yet convicting writers. Thank you for always choosing the heart of humility.

  18. Thanks you — definitely a useful bit of wisdom in these upside down times. It breaks my heart that Christians send “hate mail.”
    You are right about the importance of listening to others — how can we expect an “audience” is we are busy slamming doors and denigrating?


  19. Hang Do Lian says:

    Thank you for the insights, provoking thoughts, challenging to be a tentative listener, encouraging to be graceful even when in disagreements and exhorting us to be kind even toward rivalries and even at the most uncomfortable and unfriendly situations.

  20. Rosa says:

    Thank you! Very well said and understood – His grace is sufficient 🙏

  21. Joe Johnson says:

    I recommend the book, “Escaping Enemy Mode: How our Brains Unite us or Divide us” by Jim Wilder and Ray Woolridge. Here is a book review I wrote for Amazon Escaping Enemy Mode: FB November 21, 2022
    An invitation to learn how to make our escape from our enemy mode and and help others do the same.

    Jim Wilder and Roy Woolridge, authors of “Escaping Enemy Mode” provide helpful tools to recognize when we are in simple, stupid or intelligent enemy mode and how to escape from each one and how to love people we see as our enemies. They teach that in order to learn how to escape from enemy mode we must be stuck in enemy mode not when we are in a relational mode.. As they work together the authors uncover the immensely damaging effects of enemy mode, a brain state that comes and goes in everyday life, work, politics, family, and friendship. The book concludes that we must understand and embody how the brain escapes enemy mode before we can help others. As Ray Woolridge and Jim Wilder make their escape, they invite the world to go with them.

  22. DeLora Fennig says:

    Right on, as usual. Brice would agree.

  23. Nicola says:

    Most ‘un’ listening is driven by fear. Which is why a crowd has so much power. They are driven by ‘untruth.’ As Kierkegaard said. The individuality is gone and only the rage remains. This is why Christ ‘hid himself from them,’ as He knew what was in them. Only on an individual level can we have deep meaningful discussions. Crowd level just seek control by noise and violence.

  24. Ivan Jackson says:

    An excellent article, O to be always Christ-like.

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