We have our first presidential debate tonight between the two most disliked candidates in American polling history. There’s very little that either candidate could possibly say tonight to convince me to vote for either one of them, but I am still going to watch. I am still evaluating a few third-party candidates to decide on a candidate that I actually can vote for and support even if they have practically no chance of winning even one electoral vote (there will be more on this somewhere in the future).
You might wonder why I bother watching the debate then. After all, if neither candidate is probably going to be able to convince me, is it even worth hearing more preplanned remarks and vague answers?
One possible reason for me to watch is because I created my own version of Presidential Debate Bingo, and I think it might be fun. Feel free to use my card and see if we get bingo tonight. The rules are pretty simple. Any time one of those words or phrases is used by either candidate, mark it off. Share it around for some fun during this debate!
However, more substantially, I feel that I have a responsibility to actually consider the candidates we have on the ballot. I watched every primary debate because I wanted to know what positions each candidate was taking. I wanted to know who I could vote for, and the only way to do that is to actually try.
As I said above, I’m not planning on voting for either of the main candidates. Based on what we have seen so far in this campaign season, I don’t believe that either one will be able to earn my vote. However, I owe it to each one of them to listen to what they have to say.
This is what we are missing in public discourse today by and large. It would be hypocritical of me to push for an open public square but then refuse to listen to each of these candidates.
Let me propose a simple test. Go through your Facebook feed and find the number of posts that you disagree with. For many people, they cannot stand the fact that other people might not agree with them, so they actively block people on Facebook. I have had that happen to me as well specifically because of my political views, but I can honestly say that I have never blocked or unfunded anyone over their political views.
Look at this research from Pew that reports that 44% of consistently liberal people and 31% of consistently conservative people have blocked someone on Facebook because of their political views. Before conservatives get too excited about how much more tolerant they are, the research also shows that consistently conservative people are more likely to have friends that share their own political views. Therefore, there might be less need to block those you disagree with since you are more likely to have friends with your own political perspectives anyway.
Overall though, this trend is something that ought to be concerning no matter what side of the aisle you come from and particularly as a Christian. Christians disagree on a variety of issues, and that can include certain parts of our political persuasions. Naturally, there are some things that Christians ought to agree on, but what if we take the economy for example? Christians have been commanded to care for the poor, but there can be legitimate disagreement over the best way to go about doing it.
Some people argue that the free market will create the most prosperity and eliminate poverty in that way whereas others argue that government intervention is necessary to ensure that people don’t fall through the cracks. As Christians, we can legitimately disagree over this issue and still remain Christians. We have our focus in the right place and want to help the poor, but we have different visions of how to realize that goal.
Disagreement in fact is not necessarily a bad thing, and it is certainly not a reason to stop talking. That is one of the largest goals of this website after all. I talk about the free public square so much because it is important to be able to express ideas that can then be challenged, improved and perhaps implemented if they are good.
We see this happen in the church in the book of Acts. Peter had a vision from God about animals that were unclean. Peter did not want to violate Jewish law by eating that which was unclean, but God told him that he should not call things unclean that have been cleansed. Immediately after experiencing that vision, messengers from a Gentile, Cornelius, came to find Peter.
Peter went with these men to the home of Cornelius, and while he was there he recounted his vision and finally understood what the vision was meant to convey to him.
“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35, ESV).
This was a revolutionary concept. The church was no longer a purely Jewish institution; Jews and Gentiles worshiped God side-by-side.
However, not everyone took to this change right away, so the church had to have a meeting where this change was evaluated. Peter made his case, and after hearing it, the other religious leaders glorified God because Gentiles were allowed to repent as well (Acts 11:18).
Consider what would’ve happened however if the other religious leaders would have had the ability to block Peter. If they had been wrapped up in their own position and unwilling to consider other evidence, the unity of the church would have been severely compromised right near the beginning. However, they were willing to have a conversation, and when they heard the evidence, they decided that it was a good change to make.
This all happened though because they were willing to talk and work through a difficult issue that was controversial at the time. If they had preferred to remain in their own echo chambers, there would have been division and conflict that could have done catastrophic to the early church.