Faith and Politics Small Group Conversation Guide - Session 2
Religion and politics are often said to be the two topics to steer away from in conversation. The prospect of having political conversations at church makes many of us anxious - perhaps even more in these unusual socially-distanced times. Yet with a biblical worldview, the church can be the safest place for such conversations.
Our hope is that this three-session guide will help your small group navigate the tensions of political or polarizing conversations with biblical principles.
Guidelines for sharing and praying together
- When sharing, speak in the “I”
- Respect others.
- Turn to wonder rather than judgment. (What does my reaction tell me about myself?)
- No fixing, saving, or setting other people straight.
- Trust and learn from silence. (When tension or conflict arises, that is normal. Welcome it as a moment for silent reflection.)
- Observe confidentiality.
SESSION 2 Curiosity over Judgment
2 Corinthians 5:16-21(NIV)
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
One of the curious things about Jesus is that he asks a lot of questions. One scholar records Jesus as asking 307 questions and being asked 183 of which he answers 3. Though Jesus as the Son of God, clearly had answers for all, he chose to ask questions to promote discovery, dignify what people had to say, and engage people in dialogue rather than a monologue. On one occasion in Mark 10, we read about a blind man named Bartimaeus, who cried out seeking to catch Jesus’ attention. It would seem obvious to all what he wanted, but when Bartimaeus approaches Jesus, he is asked by the Son of God “What do you want me to do for you?” He dignifies a social nobody and waits to hear his answer.
Questions have degrees of impact. There are good questions that provoke discovery and learning. There are also unhelpful questions that are leading, asked with expectations of a given answer. These questions often assume one knows how another person will answer. However, there are good and even powerful questions that come out of a posture of curiosity - truly desiring to know what the other might share. These arise out of a knowledge that each person has value and that the words they choose cannot be taken for granted.
It’s easy to ask questions of someone you are confident you will like or want to know better. It can be much more challenging to be curious about a worldview or belief that is in opposition to your own viewpoint.
- When do you become most curious and want to ask questions? Is it around learning a hobby, catching up with a friend, or something else?
- Describe a moment when you felt genuinely seen, heard and valued by the curiosity someone took in you. What was that like?
- What topics or situations push you towards judgment over curiosity?
Check-In from Last Session
If you had a listening conversation as suggested in the last session - how did it go?
- What are common ways of seeing or categorizing people that you see in politics today?
- What might it look like to not regard any single person or party from a “worldly point of view” (v.16)?
- How can Christians hold a point of view and yet be ministers of reconciliation? What can we learn from Jesus’ life?
Emotionally Healthy Adults
Becoming an emotional adult is important in order to move towards curiosity and dialogue and away from judgment. Below are characteristics of an emotional adult. Check off what characterizes you and circle those that you need to grow in, especially in regards to politics and political engagement:
- I’m able to ask for what I need, want, or prefer—clearly, directly, honestly
- I recognize, manage, and take responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings
- I can, when under stress, state my own beliefs and values without becoming adversarial
- I respect others without having to change them
- I give people room to make mistakes and not be perfect
- I appreciate people for who they are—the good, bad, and ugly—not for what they give back
- I accurately assess my own limits, strengths, and weaknesses and am able to freely discuss them with others
- I am deeply in tune with my own emotional world and able to enter into the feelings, needs, and concerns of others without losing myself
- I have the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others
©Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature (excerpts from pp. 169-183). Zondervan.
The Spiritual Discipline of Practicing the Presence of People
As emotionally mature Christian adults, we recognize that loving well is the essence of true spirituality. This requires that we experience connection with God, with ourselves, and with other people. God invites us to practice his presence in our daily lives. At the same time, he invites us “to practice the presence of people,” within an awareness of his presence, in our daily relationships. The two are rarely brought together.
Jesus’ profound, contemplative prayer life with his Father resulted in a contemplative presence with people. Love is “to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves,” wrote Jean Vanier. Jesus did that with each person he met. This ability to really listen and pay attention to people was at the very heart of his mission. It could not help but move him to compassion. In the same way, out of our contemplative time with God, we, too, are invited to be prayerfully present to people, revealing their beauty to themselves.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the “church leaders” of that time, never made that connection. They were diligent, zealous, and absolutely committed to having God as Lord of their lives. They memorized the entire books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They prayed five times a day. They tithed all their income and gave money to the poor. They evangelized. But they never delighted in people. They did not link loving God with the need to be diligent, zealous, and absolutely committed to growing in their ability to love people. For this reason they criticized Jesus repeatedly for being a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’ ” (Matthew 11:19). He delighted in people and life too much.
Jesus refused to separate the practice of the presence of God from the practice of the presence of people. When pushed to the wall to separate this unbreakable union, Jesus refused. He summarized the entire Bible for us: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40).
- Practicing the presence of God cannot be separated from practicing the presence of people much as loving God cannot be distinct from loving people. We are all on a journey towards growth in these two areas. In what challenging arenas of your life are you experiencing growth in practicing the presence of God? What has helped you to grow?
- Who in your life would benefit from having their beauty revealed to them?
- Online platforms have made it increasingly easy for people to leave unkind, hurtful or angry comments without face-to-face interactions. What could it look like to practice the presence of people online?
Our Great Problem
I can’t help but experience life with me at the center of my universe. With my eyes I look out on the world. With my ears I hear what is going on. I can only feel, want, and experience what I am feeling, wanting, and experiencing. I naturally want the people around me to give up themselves and become what I want them to be. I prefer those close to me to think, feel, and act toward the world in the same way I do. I prefer the illusion of sameness when really we are very different from each other. I want other people’s worlds to be like mine. I even act the same way in my relationship with God, walking out my spirituality as if I am the center of the universe.
For this reason, M. Scott Peck argues that we are all born narcissists and that learning to grow out of our narcissism is at the heart of the spiritual journey.
The result of I-It relationships is that I get frustrated when people don’t fit into my plans. The way I see things is “right.” And if you don’t see it as I do, you are not seeing things the “right” way. You are wrong.
Recognizing the uniqueness and separateness of every other person on earth is so pivotal to emotional maturity. We so easily demand that people view the world the way we do. We believe our way is the right way. Augustine defined sin as the state of being “caved in on oneself.” Instead of using our God-given power to orient ourselves to God and other human beings, we focus inward.
- What resonates from this passage on I-It relationships?
- Where do you see yourself engaged in I-It relationships? One way to help explore this is to identify when you get most annoyed.
- Though an I-It relationship is dehumanizing, often there are valid human needs driving us towards being self-centered, seeking to fill our needs with our own hands. What do you need to surrender to God?
True relationships, said Buber, can only exist between two people willing to connect across their differences. God fills that in-between space of an I-Thou relationship. God not only can be glimpsed in genuine dialogue but penetrates their in-between space. See the following diagram:
The central tenet of Buber’s life work was that the I-Thou relationship between persons intimately reflects the I-Thou relationship humans have with God. A genuine relationship with any Thou shows traces of the “eternal Thou.”1 For this reason, when we love someone well as emotionally healthy adults, treating them as a Thou, not an It, it is such a powerful experience. When genuine love is released in a relationship, God’s presence is manifest. The separate space between us becomes sacred space.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our world is to be a community of emotionally healthy adults who love well. This will take the power of God and a commitment to learn, grow, and break with unhealthy, destructive patterns that go back generations in our families and cultures—and in some cases, our Christian culture also.
- What unhealthy patterns do you want to see broken in your life?
- Describe a relationship where you experience an I-Thou relationship.
- Our political conversations, in the way we engage or disengage, can tip towards I-Thou or I-It. Which way does it tip for you? What could help them move towards I-Thou experiences?
Practical Principles for Differentiating in Conversation
Being able to differentiate (being able to keep your identity while listening hospitably to others) is vital to entering into difficult conversations. Pastor Rich shares in his book A Deeply Formed Life, a few principles we can apply to maintain differentiation.
- Leave your world. Let go of the familiar, take the risk, and step out (especially with regard to race and culture).
- Enter into someone else’s world. Practice active, humble, and curious listening.
- Allow yourself to be formed by others. Open up to their worldviews while holding on to yourself.
- Which of the three steps named above for differentiating is most challenging for you? Which is easiest?
- How well do you know and understand your neighbors, coworkers, or community members? Think of two or three of them, and make a list of their top three political concerns. Can you empathize with those concerns even if they’re not your own?
- Your personal stories can provide meaningful insight and connection for others. The stories of others may do that for you as well. Stories humanize and connect us. Consider taking a small group session to share your stories around the theme of a political issue you care about and how it has impacted your life personally - whether that is immigration, healthcare, education, etc. The goal is to simply provide space to be heard and listen. No fixing or expressing that you understand exactly how the person feels.
- Share a personal takeaway from this session and how you would like the group to pray for you.