An Invitation to Listen
(to those with whom we disagree)
We live in a world that does not encourage us to be kind to those with whom we disagree. At best we avoid them, choosing to limit ourselves to more agreeable relationships. At worst, we vilify and even dehumanize those with opposing opinions. Sometimes our attitude is directed toward specific people; other times it is how we think and talk about the general group of people on “the other side.” But this is not the way of Jesus. He teaches us to go the extra mile and turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:38-42)
This kingdom practice flows out of our time of worship together on September 11, 2022. We recognize politics is the prominent area of our struggle to love those with whom we disgree. We want to be a different community, a community who listens with curiosity, loves with grace, and shares the peace of Christ with all who need it. And we are seeking to live this out as we make space this week to listen to those with opposing viewpoints.
The intention of this practice is not to sway someone to our way of thinking. We want to listen with honesty and curiosity. Why do they think the way they do? What is the value, desire, or emotion behind their opinion? The intention of this practice is to help us see those with opposing views in a new light. As we listen, can we see them as the beloved bearers of God’s image that they truely are?
Below is some simple guidance for our practice.
To whom will you listen?
The basic invitation is to make time for a conversation with someone in your life with whom you disagree. You can take them to coffee, visit their home, or schedule a phone call. We want to be very intentional and discerning about this part of the practice. There may be people who come to mind that do not feel safe. You might consider a few questions as you discern who to invite into this practice.
- Can you have a political conversation with this beloved bearer of God’s image without risking your relationship?
- Do you think this beloved bearer of God’s image can have a civil conversation about a political topic?
- Is this beloved bearer of God’s image someone you think can articulate why they hold the opinion they do?
If someone does not feel safe to invite into this practice, perhaps we might take a moment and hold them in God’s presence before considering another person. Perhaps we can join with God’s love for them in the practice of prayer.
When you have decided on a person, be sure to ask if they would be willing to have the conversation with you. In this way, we extend an invitation for a dialogue. It might be helpful to name that you value their opinion and want to learn from them.
Beginning with a practice
Listening to someone with whom we disagree is difficult. In order to ground ourselves in God’s presence with us, we invite you to practice this short (less than 7 minutes) prayer of reflection.
Guiding principles for our conversations
- Listening – Let’s remember this practice is not about convincing someone they should agree with us. This is a practice of listening. Knowing that you intend to listen frees you from having to think about what you will say next and keeps the focus on them.
- Curiosity – We want to listen with curiosity, so our contribution to the conversation will primarily be questions. Be intentional about your questions. Don’t ask questions with an agenda. Be honest and curious. How did they come to their position? What is the desire behind it?
- Intellectual hospitality – If we are listening honestly, we will thoughtfully consider their ideas. Rather than rejecting an opinion outright, can you consider, “What if they are correct?” Even as you listen, you may not agree with their conclusion, but can you allow yourself to value the reasons they have come to the conclusion? Believe the best about their reasoning and opinions.
- Tone and body language – While the questions we ask are important, we should also pay attention to the tone of our voice and our body language. The majority of communication (93% of in-person communication) is not in the words we speak but in our tone and body language. Be aware not only of the questions you ask, but also the tone of your questions. Is your tone communicating love and curiosity, or is it judgmental and argumentative?
- Discernment – As you tune your attention to the other person, keep your heart open to what God might be saying to you. As we practice this form of ‘three-way listening,’ are we able to notice and attend to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the contours of their life?
By no means is this a comprehensive list of questions, but you may use these or some variation in your conversation.
- “How did you come to your position?”
- If you think you recognize a value, desire, or emotion behind their position, you might say, “It sounds like you really value/hope for/feel…”
- If you find a place of agreement, you might say, “I agree with you that…”
- If a question doesn’t come to mind, you might reflect back what you have heard and ask if you are understanding them correctly.
If you are unable to make space to listen to someone with whom you disagree, we encourage you to research the opposing position of a political issue. Choose an issue and spend some time reading and listening to opposing views.
The spirit of this practice is the same as listening to a specific person. As best you can, listen with honesty and curiosity. Can you understand why they think the way they do? What value, desire, or emotion is behind the opinion? Our intention is to see the opposing view in a new way and see those who hold it as beloved bearers of God’s image.
We encourage you to still begin with the practice above and then begin to research. Keep in mind the guiding principles, and you might even consider how the author/presenter would answer the suggested question.