We had lunch at a deli nearby our headquarters and had a fun discussion over our soup and sandwiches. A good portion of our discussion was centered on the upcoming presidential election as we discussed the candidates, the recent debates and some of the issues that we were thinking about as we choose a candidate to lead our nation. Since we all know each other and are friends, the discussion was friendly and informative. Unfortunately, the talk of politics didn't end at lunch.
After our time of eating was over, we walked over to a movie theater that is hosting a multi-day free Christian film festival. The idea behind the festival is that Christian-themed movies can be offered without cost so that those that are followers of Christ can invite friends to hear more about the Christian faith. Seems like a good idea.
While perusing the literature and books that were set up outside the theater before the start of the film, an older white lady approached one of our staff, an African American male. She introduced herself and almost without hesitation asked the following question:
"Are you voting for Barack Obama because he's black?"This is the honest-to-God truth! He wasn't wearing an Obama shirt or passing out pamphlets for the Democratic party. He was just a black man looking at some books and this is the way some Christian lady chooses to engage in discussion with him. But it gets worse.
After confirming that I had just heard what I thought we did, our group kind of had a laugh about it and tried to forget about it. Minutes later, this woman and her daughter (a grown adult) step in line behind us. Without missing a beat, the woman's daughter initiates the following exchange with another woman in our group:
Woman: "Are you voting for Barack Obama because he's black?" (Again, no previous discussion of politics here. This is how she was attempting to strike up a conversation with someone different than herself).Not only were these two ladies ignorant and clueless, but I wonder how they typically engage those they perceive to be non-Christians. The point of this film festival was to bring in non-Christians to hear the message of Christ -- not to talk about politics. For all they knew, my friends and I could have very well have not been followers of Christ. I wonder what our impressions of Jesus would have been after that encounter if this were the case.
My friend: "Um, you know, I'd rather not talk about politics right now."
To which I turned around and asked this lady: "Are you voting for John McCain because he's white?"
After an awkward pause, the woman replied: "I don't think I'd like to talk about this. Um...some people kind of feel uncomfortable discussing this."
My response: "Exactly!" (And then turned to rejoin the discussion that my friends and I were having).
Two things that people feel very passionately about, but have difficulty discussing are politics and religion. The mixture of the two can cause serious sparks. It is why it is good to engage discussions along those lines only when others have been invited to do so and have indicated a willingness to proceed. Even then, we need to be open to hearing their point of view. We often feel compelled to answer questions that no one else has asked and, in the process, shut others out from having an honest dialogue with us where their opinions, as well as our own, are respected and heard.
So I implore you, yet once again, during this campaign season to watch what you say, when you say it and who you are saying it to. How you and I carry ourselves during seasons like this can determine how we're able to interact with others with different perspectives down the road.