When I was a kid there was an old proverb going around that I think had been going around for a good century. It went something like this, “Do not talk about politics and religion in polite company. Better to stick to sports and the weather.”
I’ll never forget the moment I realized the last sentence in that tidbit wasn’t true any more. I had moved to a small town in Eastern Oregon from the Midwest. I was sitting in the local sandwich shop that sat a block from my church. I was trying to get to know the owner, a bright woman with an entrepreneurial spirit and fun personality. Somehow we got to talking about the weather, probably because we were polite people.
I made some statement about the fact that I was glad that I wasn’t in tornado alley any more.
She stopped and stared at me and said, “Oh, we get tornadoes here” as if she was genuinely concerned that I had been misled.
I almost laughed out loud. Northeast Oregon is surrounded by 9,000 foot tall mountains. They do not get tornadoes.
“Well I suppose you get little dust funnels out on the farm fields but not like Missouri where people’s homes get destroyed.”
The tone of the conversation changed drastically. Her concerned expression turned to a glare.
“No, you need to know here that the wind blows pretty hard. In 1967 a tornado knocked a single wide trailer right off its cinder block foundation!”
I suddenly realized I was in an argument I didn’t even want to win and so back tracked and said, “Oh really? Thanks for letting me know!” and changed the subject to sports which she gratefully knew nothing about.
I could list thirty more conversations I have had that are very similar to this. When I started my current assignment I made the horrible mistake of asking my worship team to pray right before our worship service. I thought, “Everybody loves prayer!” I am still paying for that horrible request. Right after that I suggested to the wrong person that we look into painting our fellowship hall. He let me know in no small way that I was not to touch that fellowship hall and still, a year later, won’t meet with me outside of Sunday morning. I can’t open my mouth about anything any more without some unexpected backlash.
This illustrates that keeping polite company any more is a brutal chore. People don’t value civility any more. Instead they value their own opinions and how right they think they are.
Some of my friends have given up entirely. They seem to adore the national and theological arguments that are destroying politeness. Every time something goes down regarding guns, the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, or national elections their Facebook profile is instantly water marked and their statuses hashtagged with activism. Whether conservative or liberal, they seem to love the chance to post divisive cartoons, tired talking points, angry blogs and partisan articles. They seem sincere in this, like they genuinely believe they are doing society some good.
You older, anti technology types should not be fooled. This did not start with the invention of Facebook. I know a lot of people I meet with face to face who are just as boisterous. They yell and share their opinions with anyone who will listen and they want to bait you into the argument so they can drag you down to their level and beat you with their experience. They have succeeded to do that to me more times than I can count.
But don’t get me wrong, I am envious of their freedom. I wish I felt like I had the freedom to just post whatever opinion I wanted to. In fact sometimes I feel guilty for not chiming in and joining my “side” with my carefully informed and well formed opinions. I bet I could even articulate them better than half the internet and that alone might do some good.
Or it definitely won’t.
Because every time I do chime in, whether online or in real life, I instantly feel guilty. I cried for days that I had let the color of our fellowship hall come between me and a beloved parishioner. I am still in mourning over insisting my worship team pray during a time that just would not work for them. I should have reversed harder and quicker. I definitely did learn my lessons though.
When I do chime in on my opinions, it is almost like I had just smoked my first cigarette. There is a rush of rebellious satisfaction followed by nothing but guilt and a hacking cough as I wonder:
What will my church people think?
Will I lose my job over this?
Does that person still love me?
What will my liberal best friend or my conservative uncle think?
What if this new couple who has just started attending our church disagrees and decides our church isn’t right for them because of it?
Then I delete, delete, delete. Or if it is in person, apologize, apologize, apologize.
In today’s world having and sharing opinions is just too costly. The price is too high, especially for pastors. In ages past you were allowed to think differently than someone without losing your salary, your position, even your ordination and definitely your friends. This is not true any more. People care more about the weather and what color their fellowship hall should be than they do about each other. I don’t want to be one of them.
My friendship with you is far too important to me. If you are going to terminate it because I think Oregon doesn’t get tornadoes than by all means, “watch out for those funnel clouds!” If you want me to liberal, I will be liberal for you. If you want me to be conservative, I will be conservative for you. If you love our fellowship hall just the way it is, than it is the most beautiful fellowship hall I have ever seen!
You can call me wishy-washy but know that I am not. I know what I believe and I do act on it. My best friends and wife will certainly attest to that! I just try really hard not to let you know what I believe because I would rather keep being your friend.
Rather, you can say I am a coward because I am. You can say I care too much about what people think because I do. You can say I like having money to feed my family more than I like “the gospel.” That is fair, though I would argue my opinions and your opinions about national affairs are NOT the gospel.
Ultimately we now live in a world where pride is alienating us from each other and I desperately crave true, civil, Christian friendship. And if the price of my friendship with you is letting you have your opinions while thinking (most times wrongly) that I agree with you, than so be it. I want to be your friend and that is worth the price of constantly biting my tongue and not clicking the “share” button.