I made the mistake a few years ago of attending A Walk to Emmaus during a Presidential election season. The Walk itself was wonderful, but the downtime was painful.
Several guys at the Table of Servants were wrapped up in the election and in their chosen party’s ideology. The distressing part was not only the partisanship of the conversation, but the manner in which they talked about the other party’s candidate.
“That guy’s an idiot.” “Can you believe what a moron he is?”
Actually, the real conversation was a bit more colorful, with lots of interesting adjectives and adverbs unfit for a church-friendly blog.
Eventually the leadership at the Walk had to give the guys a pep talk and discourage any discussion of politics. It simmered down a bit, but the damage was done. Plenty of people in that room had lost a good deal of respect for one another over the way politics and people get discussed.
I was reminded of that the other day when I was perusing John Wesley’s General Rules for the Methodist Societies. Under Rule #1, commonly known as “Do No Harm,” Brother John gave us some down to earth examples of the kinds of harm we should avoid.
John Wesley discouraged us from “Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.”
I guess I’m guilty as charged from time to time as well. But that brings me to a point: if we took half the energy we spent on criticizing, bad-mouthing, and trash-talking our leaders and spent it on praying for them, it would do all of us a lot more good. We’d have a more positive outlook, and radiate a more positive Christian witness.
That’s not to say that our leaders don’t deserve critique. They absolutely do. But critique is most effective when it:
- critiques policies and decisions instead of people,
- is constructive rather than destructive in nature and intent,
- comes from a loving rather than damning voice
- focuses on bringing opposing sides together rather than driving them apart.
I think Wesley would have a lot to say about the way we handle political discourse in this country. And I don’t think we’d like to hear it. But we need to.
Do no harm. Don’t run people down. Put the trash talk where it belongs – in the trash can.