I have a lot of friends whose views on political and social issues are pretty similar to mine. I am neither apologizing nor feeling guilty about that; it’s natural for all of us to want to spend time with people who have similar outlooks and ideas. The problem is, we can too easily get caught in an echo chamber, where the only voices we hear are those that sound just like ours. If we don’t have a chance to engage differing opinions, it becomes too easy to stereotype those who disagree with us. We start to imagine ourselves as the Good Guys and the “others” as the Bad Guys. And if we happen to cross paths on Facebook or in the comments section of a blog or media article, the dialogue quickly degenerates into name-calling and character assassination.
This is not a new problem. Jesus’ disciples were convinced that their Samaritan neighbors were completely evil and untrustworthy. They were shocked – scandalized – when they saw Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman by a public well. And the familiar Bible story is called The Good Samaritan because that’s what made it news. Samaritans were rarely thought of as good. When we only associate with people who think like we think, say what we say, we can start to think of that as reality, not as the echo chamber it really is.
One of the remedies is to intentionally seek out people from different places in the social-political landscape and to listen to them. Listen… not debate, argue, or try to convert… but listen deeply and respectfully. I have friends who have tried to create spaces for conversations that cross the red and blue political lines. Sometimes they work well, other times not so much. In my own associations, I have some people who might be good conversation partners, except that they won’t put in the time and effort to craft an original contribution to the discussion of any issue. Instead, they lurk around Facebook pages and blogs and wait for someone to make a statement about a news event or current issue. Then they jump in with (verbal) guns blazing and engage in all the bad behavior. Those aren’t thoughtful contributors to any conversation; they are what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians as noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. They simply generate noise and ill will.
Fortunately, I also have some thoughtful conversation partners. One friend with whom I disagree on many issues but whose voice I appreciate is Rebecca Florence Miller. She and I met nearly 15 years ago in seminary. She has a blog on the Evangelical Channel of Patheos (here), and she frequently offers opinions on the day’s events on her Facebook page.
Rebecca is significantly more conservative than I am. But I am enriched every time I read one of her blog posts. She does not paint issues with broad-brush simplistic strokes; she is attentive to the nuances of a situation. She is a strong believer in accountability and will challenge those who try to dodge their ethical responsibility, regardless of their political stripes. And she seems never to forget that even those who are acting the worst are children of a God who loves them and wants better for them.
I am grateful to Rebecca and to the many other people in my life who are thoughtful, ethical, and willing to hold me and others accountable for our own words and actions.