Persuading in a Divided Age: The Christian’s Privilege

More than anyone, Christians should be in the business of understanding the reality of people’s lives.

By the time this reflection hits the press, some months will have dulled the passions surrounding Election 2012. As it is, this mid-November, Americans find themselves in belated agreement about the reality of a social landscape just validated by the voting majority, and the narrative is set: Democrats are the deft, adaptable realists, Republicans the recalcitrant fogies. At least in Washington, there’s enough gloating and fretting to wonder if the middle’s bottomed out.

“It’s the end of the Republic,” I heard a married southern white woman despair twelve hours after the outcome was called. Within minutes my phone vibrated with an invitation from a young and single Wendell Berry urbanite: “Last night got you in good spirits?” it sang. “Come dance it out this Saturday at Club Heaven & Hell with a nine-piece Funk Orchestra!” I couldn’t help but laugh. One nation, indivisible?

In our splintered context, it seems as tiresome as it does critical to put a little time into cleaning up the aims and means of political persuasion. Tiresome because polarization seems too permanent a feature to overcome, critical because without a real effort to bridge our chasms, a country founded on ideas suffocates its own engine. If a democracy is to survive, we don’t really have a choice but to think anew about the purpose of persuasion, about the good that is possible when people’s minds are changed, about the even deeper good that can sprout in the overture process itself.

Reassessment carries special weight for Christians, who have tended toward a preaching model in their fraught history as advocates on the political stage. Not being equipped, somehow, to have their faith affect political expression other than to declare holy high ground and doggedly pound home the same arguments, those on the right and left have succumbed to didactic overreach as they’ve condemned and glorified whatever or whoever speaks to conservative or progressive theo-political priorities. Trusting that repetition is somehow effective, Christian lapels have instead earned the scorn of self-respecting thinkers who won’t stomach moralism beyond pulpit’s pews.

Read more at Comment magazine: changing this requires a hospitable, humble posture, one that welcomes potentially uncomfortable revelations of counter-evidence and logic, one that is even willing, on some issues, to be persuaded.

Comments are closed.