So, see anything interesting on TV lately? More than 80 million of us watched the first presidential debate on television last night – and millions more watched online. Maybe you were one of those millions of viewers and streamers. I was.
Nerd alert – I was on the debate team in high school. I was pretty intense about it, competed in tons of tournaments, and thanks in large part to some great partners (shout out to you, Roy) I was pretty successful, too. I used to have a few trophies to prove it, but they’re long lost. Off the chart nerd alert – I do I still have my NFL (National Forensics League, that is, not the other NFL) quad-ruby pin of outstanding distinction tucked away somewhere.
This is to say – besides that I was and remain a super nerd – I feel like have a fairly good idea of what debating public policies and political positions is supposed to be all about, and the merits on which debaters are to be judged. I watched last night at least as much as a former debater as a future voter.
As soon as the debate ended, lots of people began telling us who won, and why. I have to say, for the vast majority, their reasons were as detached from reality and facts as the candidates so often were themselves. There was scant little analysis and elephant dung heaps worth of spin.
I’m not writing this to take a perilous plunge into politics with you. I’m not here to tell you who I thought was the better debater. I’m not publicly backing either candidate in the debate last night, or another not there, or none at all.
What I would offer is my concern with our culture’s almost complete lack of ability and/or willingness to enter into civil dialogue and debate over anything – politics, leadership, international relations, race relations, religion, global warming, sports, what movies we like, what music we like, what ice cream flavors we like…anything!
Look, I don’t expect our politicians to conduct themselves according to the National Forensics League Code of Honor (yes, that’s a real thing, with tenets promoting integrity, humility, respect and more). It would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. But when our nation’s foremost example of what it means to “debate” critically important matters – leading to a critically important vote to determine who will next hold the most critically important office in the land – demonstrates over and again to 80 million plus of us that vagueness, rudeness, innuendo, personal attacks, lies, smears, smugness and smirks are how we should dialogue with one another, it’s no wonder we regular Joes and Janes don’t seem to know how to speak or listen to those with whom we might disagree about, well, anything.
We need a different model, a counter-cultural guide for how to interact. And as much as my nerdy self admires it, I don’t mean the National Forensics League.
Here’s just one thing the Bible says about treating and talking about others. This is from the Apostle Paul, recorded in the book of Ephesians, chapter four.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Lord, forgive me for the many times I have spoken to or about others in ways that grieve you. Even when those people are politicians.