Director of Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
"Politics, Race & Religion"
It’s time to fundamentally change the way we think about others. The old model is irrelevant, and as this series will demonstrate, harmful and misleading.
Your average person is as likely to have moved several times, as to have lived and died in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, perhaps messy. But, even for those who never change their geographical location, they are globally connected to people through social media in ways that were unheard of just twenty years ago. This also means increased exposure to people, on a daily basis, who may live and think radically different from them. People on the other side of the screen come to social media conversations with a wealth of experiences and perspectives that are unique to them.
The apostle Paul admonishes us to “become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). To accomplish this in modern society, our definition of culture needs to be expanded. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple different communities simultaneously. The old marketing strategies of putting people in target groups based on a few identifying factors is no longer reflective of reality.
The assumptions we make by a surface examination of another person are simply false and limited to our human perspective. Perception is not reality. To reach across the gulfs that divide us, we must first listen. Basic human needs and desires have not changed. However, it’s easier to cast a stone than to truly examine ourselves and question the validity of our experience-shaped perspectives.
How often do we seek understanding but refuse to give it to another? Are we brave enough to place ourselves in another person’s shoes and objectively listen? Are we too quick to cast judgment based on nothing but our limited world view? We are called to represent Christ, but not take on His role as judge.
Perhaps we are afraid to listen because if we listen long enough, it may change us. We may realize that our neighbor is not our enemy, and that we fundamentally have more in common than we care to admit. We may find out that our neighbor’s perspective, although radically different, is just as valid as ours. Then what? We may have to compromise; we may have to admit that we are wrong. This is a risk we must take in order for our country and Church to survive and thrive. Social media has unprecedented potential as a means for sharing the gospel, but we are distracted by our differences. We misuse the tools at hand and find ourselves even more divided than before.
Janice Barton, founder and partner at Performance Plus Marketing, says, “Social media’s instant access means instant engagement.” That engagement she speaks of can be both good and bad. Words, like the ideas behind them, have enormous power to both connect people and fracture relationships. The immediacy of the platforms at our disposal has emboldened us. And the anonymity has permitted us to type faster than we can think with few real consequences.
The 2016 election is an intriguing case study that, interestingly, parallels many of the issues the Seventh-day Adventist church in North America faces today. The membership of the Adventist Church is a microcosm of our nation. The distrust, accusations, frustrations and fears of many in this country can be heard in our own homes and in the company we keep. But in our interactions, does what others think, feel, or want even matter? Is change necessary? These are questions worth answering. Whether it’s politics or doctrine coloring our relationships, we all have something to learn.
Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of physics does not answer those questions, but it brings us to a salient point. “Objects will remain in their state of motion unless a force acts to change the motion.” In other words, we’ll get to where we’re going, and perhaps to our own detriment because we’ve done nothing to stop it.
Seven months should be enough time to put the rawness of the election process and the inauguration into perspective, but time has only magnified the emotional intensity of the election cycle. A lot has been said and written since then. Message boards, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts—are all rife with opinions, anger, and celebration. Race, politics, and religion are often major elements of those expressions.
Let’s put aside our assumptions and our sacred cows. Let examine the difficult issues at hand in an objective fashion. Let’s get uncomfortable. Let’s challenge ourselves. Ultimately, data doesn’t lie, but people do. We no longer have a choice. Either we sit down at the table and civilly discuss our differences, or we perish as church and a nation, failing our mission.
When standing their ground, a Marine asks, “Is this the hill you choose to die on?” We have a choice: the hill of Calvary or one of our own invention. And thus begins a journey I hope we can go on together. We promise it will become uncomfortable “for everybody.” But discussions that matter about topics that are hard…can’t and won’t be comfortable. They shouldn’t be.
Questions to consider:
Part 2 - Politics: "I" Define Your Message
Part 3 - Politics: American Values