How to Have Conversations about Polarizing Issues (with Humility & Compassion)

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I recently gave a presentation to leaders of trauma-informed organizations here in Phoenix. The topic was chosen by the group’s organizer: ‘How to Have Polarizing Conversations with Compassion.’ Being an election year, the topic was timely. Then came COVID, and people declared sides over trivial things. George Floyd’s life was taken. Then protests and riots and more lines in the sand.

Polarizing. Still a timely topic, and certainly not a new one.

Jesus lived during times when choosing a side, declaring right and wrong, being offended and defensive were full-time hobbies – much like today. Jesus’s ministry was one of healing, silencing storms, and engaging in conversation with people of different backgrounds, views, reputations, and beliefs. The omniscient God of the universe came into a broken world and talked with broken people of limited knowledge about polarizing issues, and He listened. He loved. He responded with compassion, free of passive aggressive remarks and condescending pontifications.

Jesus knew all the rights and wrongs, but His message of truth and grace wasn’t called the ‘right news’. It was called the Good News, a message that says grace is for everyone. Paul calls it the gospel of peace, and when I read the conversations Jesus had in the gospels, I can see why. Within every interaction Jesus had with people ‘on the other side’, it is impossible to overlook the distinct peace.

The distinction is this: Jesus didn’t have polarizing conversations, He had conversations about polarizing issues. He was met with fear, pride, and knowledge, and He extended patience, affection, and mercy. He never wavered.

Which means I must ask myself, as a Christ follower, do my actions, words, and behaviors reflect a gospel of peace and a God of compassion? Am I loving my neighbor as myself?

If not, I’ve missed the point of receiving God’s grace. I’ve forgotten I needed it and need it still. I’ve forgotten that others need it, too.

There are viewpoints I don’t agree with and beliefs I don’t support, but a person is connected to these various ways of seeing the world, and Jesus says to love people. In this polarized environment, within polarizing issues, Jesus says to love people because He loves people. Love without cost or obligation – the same love He gives me. My obedience to Christ is measured by my love for others.

Can I be honest? Sometimes, I don’t know what to do with this.

Paul defines obedience in a practical way: finding common ground with everyone. In the midst of different people, cultures, behaviors, thoughts, rules, and customs, Paul doesn’t get distracted by the differences. Instead, he focuses on finding common ground. Not for his own comfort, but for the good and benefit of others. He finds the biggest patch of sameness he can find and welcomes others to join him, so that maybe – if trust is built and safety is felt– the gospel can be shared. Paul knows the privilege of sharing happens on common ground.

The truth about common ground is, I will never, ever find it without humility. Humility reminds me I am not God and there is an order to things that my finite mind can’t imagine or comprehend – or keep. If I believe I’m smarter, wiser, less ignorant, more educated, justified, more important, better than, more right, the most right, or the most special person on earth, it will be impossible to find common ground with anyone else. Without humility, it is impossible to hold truth, extend grace, and respond with compassion. Without humility, it’s impossible to talk about anything that matters.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing 5 steps for having conversations about polarizing issues with humility and compassion. These steps may challenge you (they continue to challenge me), but I hope you’ll join me. It’s gonna be good.

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  1. Oh my goodness, I can’t wait for the steps!! This is too exciting. Every word you wrote I was nodding my head to. You spoke what I believe and where I want to live. Love you!

  2. Humility opens my ears and guards my heart. Compassion guides my hands.
    I’m all about words and these help me. Thx.

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