I’m writing this before Election Day, because it doesn’t matter who wins on November 8 to make my point. Today’s feast – “Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” – is meant to give every Catholic perspective on Who truly leads and guides us – and it’s not whoever is headed to the White House.
There was a lot of bad feeling during the recent campaign, and we now have a job – not just as citizens but as Catholics – to do our part to repair the damage that was done to the social fabric by the run-up to the election. Here are a few ideas you may find helpful.
First, recognize our Catholic duty to reconcile. Jesus says it over and over in the Gospels. To take one example: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering” [Matthew 5:24]. Reconciliation matters more than worship. Maybe this needs to be applied to some of the people who post on your Facebook.
Second, don’t keep feeding antagonisms. It’s natural for partisans to feel either delight or gloom, depending on whether their side wins or loses. But any version of “We whupped you guyz!” from the winners, or “We wuz robbed!” from the losers, just makes the problem worse. A commitment to reconciling means this: Make it as easy as possible for your adversary to reconcile with you. Yes, part of the work falls to him or to her; but a large part falls to us as Christ’s disciples. Take the first step.
Third, don’t argue. Asking a person to admit s/he was wrong about something almost never works – it only drives the person to dig his/her heels in. “Right” and “wrong” on partisan issues can be left to the dustbin of history at this point.
Fourth, engage politely. There are still lots of areas of public policy for (polite) disagreement and controversy. Engage, but as a disciple. Don’t expect your “perfect” argument to win the day. If an adversary can find even a tiny thing to dispute (and there are always plenty of them), that will likely become the axis on which the disagreement spirals even deeper. Make time for people to mull over things. And admit you have things to learn as well.
Fifth, indirect appeals to an adversary’s reasonableness help. Not in the mode of saying, “Be reasonable!” but rather, “Here’s something you might want to read / think about when you get a minute.” Again, appeal to the “better angels of his/her nature.”
Sixth (and second-most important): Offer something so a person can reconcile with dignity intact. Find common cause in something of shared interest and value, and let the past fade. Acknowledge what’s right about the other person’s positions, hopes, and fears.
Seventh (and most important): Remember that what ultimately matters is the eternal salvation of you and your adversary both. Christ died no less for that person whose positions and rhetoric you can’t bear as He did for you. That’s some common ground right there.
The campaign season may have distracted some of us from our centering in Christ. Let’s use today’s feast to remember Who truly leads and guides us all. Until next week, peace.