It’s rarely just 2

Many others have made note of the topic of today’s post, but I wanted to wade into these waters for just a bit to express my perspective.

As the ‘resident theologian’ (a common phrase to remind pastors of their primary role) at a local church, I am often asked questions about this or that hot topic. These days, those requests usually come in the form of a request for a response to an article or something posted online.

I try to temper my responses for a couple of reasons. First, a request for such a response is often a disguise for a trap into an unfruitful argument. Granted, the argument is not usually between me and the requester. It’s usually between the requester and a third party, and he/she is hoping (perhaps expecting) that I will say something in my response that may be used as ammunition in their argument, or …in the absence of an argument… as a bolster for their position. I don’t want to be ‘played’ like that, so I hedge my response.

That is not, however, my main reason for hedging a response. The main reason is that people don’t usually hear what I say. They hear what they expect or an extremity I’m not expressing.

Would an example be helpful? The recent Super Bowl halftime show featured Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. I’ve never been a big fan of either (I much prefer Lopez as an actor than a singer/gyrator). I appreciate Shakira’s musical abilities, but am not really a fan of hers, either.

The day after the game, I didn’t see much online about the ‘big game.’ I saw a lot of people decrying conservatives who don’t denounce President Trump’s crassness yet were offended by Lopez’ barely covered vulva being foisted onto their screens (like this one – language warning!). I saw a few conservatives actually expressing offense, but nowhere near the numbers of people ‘exposing’ the false dichotomy.

I tried to restrain myself, but still replied to two of the posts. One just simply asking what the person would do with a person who (like I do) decries BOTH as offensive. The recipient responded by removing the entire article from their feed (not an inappropriate response IMO). The other, I added that the reaction is not pointing out a false dichotomy so much as creating a false equivalence. Since I (apparently) am in such a minority of conservatives who find both objectionable, I asked why it was okay for non-conservatives to be perfectly fine with the halftime striptease, but are offended by President Trump’s language and misogyny? If they are equivalent, as the original post seems to indicate, we should all be perfectly okay with both, or object to both.

I was almost immediately labeled as a Trump defender. It didn’t matter that I explicitly stated that I objected to BOTH, which includes Trump’s public approach toward women).

In Arizona, a Federal Judge recently overturned the convictions of four people leaving jugs of water in the desert in locations common for illegals to cross the border. They started doing so after reading a report of 150 dead bodies being discovered over a period of time. (Here’s an opinion piece about the reversal.)

In expressing my opinion of the judge’s decision, I risk you reading that I’m an ‘open borders’ proponent. I am not! I am, however, a pro-life person who can’t fathom that our legal system would punish people for helping a human being not die in the heat. This is not an immigration issue. This is a life issue…an issue of humanity!

I have no issue with holding people accountable to their actions (break the law, pay the penalty). The judge summarized the governments position that these people were interfering with their “strategy of deterrence by death.” Holy crap! I am grateful for the actions of United States District Judge Rosemary Márquez in this case.

What’s happening on our southern border is unconscionable not because I’m a Leftist or a Rightist (I think I made up that word). It’s unconscionable because it is fixable, and we’re letting death be our deterrent simply because our politicians refuse to fix it. I share these three steps only to demonstrate that my position is not on either expected extreme:

  1. Secure the borders! I have absolutely no problem with a southern wall.
  2. Fix the processes! (I sense our neither party of legislators like this option because this is a great campaign issue. Fix this, and they lose an issue to fundraise and be seen yelling about.)
  3. Deal with those who are here illegally! This includes those requesting amnesty (or as I’d like to call them…the not-so-illegal). Our processes suck, and we don’t have enough officers, judges and administrators to process the requests we’re receiving. That means this will cost dollars, and we’re all hesitant to spend dollars on something that doesn’t positively impact citizens as individuals, or legislators as candidates. It may sound simplistic, but hire more people. Maybe look at ways to expedite the system while we’re at it.

Chances are, when this gets posted: my Republican friends will read this as me coming out for open borders (a position I’ve never heard anyone advocate); and my Democrat friends will read this as me wanted a closed border (a position I’ve never heard anyone advocate). Yes, I’m sure there are loonies out there advocating for both of those extremes, but most reasonable people don’t. Yet, we’ve been taught to argue against the extreme opposite (even if the “opponent” isn’t advocating for the extreme) to avoid actually engaging intelligent discussion. It’s much easier to dismiss something or someone off-hand.

Let me return to the ‘resident theologian’ perspective now to help you see that this isn’t anything new. When Jesus walked the earth, people were confused by him. The religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, etc.) tried to trap him using the Law (their specialty), and we Christians use that to roll our eyes specifically at the Pharisees. However, the Pharisees didn’t tell commoners to not eat with commoners. They didn’t tell sinners to avoid consorting with sinners. They told OTHER PHARISEES to avoid sinners. I believe they looked at Jesus as one of them! Maybe they didn’t see him as a member of their particular order, but as a person who belonged in the class of leaders.

Yet, Jesus hung out with commoners, sinners, and even enemies. I’d love to be privy to some of the late-night discussions between Peter, James, and John. It would be interesting if Gallup had surveyed the commoners to get their take on ‘one of them’ hanging out with the ruling class.

Jesus stayed in the middle and wept that neither ‘side’ would move to hear one another better. Access to God’s grace for ALL, is too radical for an extremist on either end of the spectrum. But a priest’s job is to be a bridge. Before you dismiss “priests” as “not me”, most Protestant traditions embrace the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers (check out 1 Peter 2 to find out why). A priest’s job is to stand between God and human with outstretched arms. One hand holds tightly to God’s hand, and we invite people to take the other hand in order to connect humanity to the divine.

So what? So, the extremes silence reasoned dialogue and relationships in the middle. Let me encourage you to listen to what’s actually being said by the people you engage. If you’re like most people in the US today, they’re probably saying things you aren’t expecting. They may even have been talking for a long time without anyone hearing past the opportunity to categorize them. Be the one who does.

Standing in the middle (yes, center-right and center-left are middle ground) gives good perspective. You can hear both sides’ reasoning and position, which empowers you to develop informed opinions (rather than swallowing someone else’s opinion as your own). You’ll also find yourself in better position to have intelligent conversation (debate) with people who differ from you. You might learn something … and teach something, instead of just yelling and being yelled at.

Very few issues exist that have only 2 answers. Look for the non-extremes and you’ll find real people behind the words. You’ll also give them the opportunity to discover you. It’s rarely just 2 options.

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