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The Death of Discussion

Written by Dr. Rex M. Rogers on . Posted in Local

rexsat7Dr. Rex M. RogersDuring the U.S. Presidential campaign, back in February 2016, I stopped posting political content on social media. I just quit cold turkey.

Before this I'd tried to post about issues. I didn't mention just one but always several candidates, attempted to be non-partisan, never spoke negatively of the previous Administration, and in no way attacked Democrat or Republican candidates or otherwise use my social media to campaign. In retrospect, I guess I was naïve. I actually tried to conduct a discussion about important issues. Usually, it didn't happen.

I found that people didn't read the nuances of what I said, and they didn't discuss the issue. Mostly, they reacted emotionally, defending their partisan view and/or candidate—who I had often not mentioned—and frequently did so with rancor not found in my posts. People used my nonpartisan social media post as a platform to rant or to proclaim the virtues of their candidate, even when this had nothing directly to do with the issue content of my post.

I also noticed that my comments about political issues, in part because they got hi-jacked for candidate campaigning or negative campaigning, divided my family, friends, and colleagues. People just couldn't hang together for an issue discussion without quickly voting each other off the island.

At that point I decided political posting wasn't worth dividing or losing friends. So I stopped.

But recently, a friend said to me in a private exchange that while he had reached the same conclusion regarding no-more-political-posts, he felt badly because he struggled with knowing that silence in the face of evil (he was referring to an especially egregious issue) can make one an accessory. My friend didn't make the reference, but I will, a la the famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Perhaps not all political debates are good vs evil and not all issues, thankfully, involve evil as such, but some do, so where does that leave us?

A while back I broke my pattern. I didn't use social media but privately texted several friends, noting Bethany Christian Services' "Bethany's Statement on the Attorney General Citing Scripture to Justify the Separation of Families," and said I thought it was "Interesting." I did not attack President Trump but later commented in the text chain that I thought the President could alter what was currently taking place at the border. My friends split down the middle, not about whether children were at risk but in regard to the Administration's responsibility for this issue. That's OK. Disagreement is part of discussion. But as the text exchange continued, friends started requesting they be dropped from the group text.

I was reminded that even my friends, like the rest of the country, and I'd suggest much of the Church, are politically divided to the point of polarization. I understand my friends' desire to opt out. As I said, in some sense, I have done the same on social media. It wasn't that they didn't have opinions or that they didn't care, though perhaps some may be less politically interested than others, but that they did not want to get into a back-and-forth of hardened positions on opposite ends of the teeter-totter.

Think "panels" on major television news channels: pretty much they've devolved into shout fests about who can talk overtop the other, not reasoned discourse. Think "guns" or "gun control": pretty much this debate is a non-starter because people on all sides are loudly talking past each other, usually citing the extremes of whatever they consider the other position.

This same kind of phenomenon showed up last winter when my wife and I attended an after-church home-gathering comprised of people from the same church—middle class Midwesterners, most of whom who'd grown up locally and graduated from the same high school and who otherwise had much in common. It was a very nice evening. Then someone mentioned President Trump, or maybe it was just a given political issue. Just like that the group divided, incredibly, to the point of yielding a couple of prickly comments and a few negative facial expressions that stayed that way until someone changed the subject. Amazing. Good friends suddenly turn edgy when politics comes up. So the old maxim stands: "Never talk about politics or religion in polite company."

Years ago, I wrote a book called "Christian Liberty: Living for God in a Changing Culture" (Baker, 2003). I talked about God's moral absolutes—not a long list by the way— for all times, countries, and cultures, which we ignore at our own peril.
And I talked about the enormous room for discretion, or better, discernment with which God charged us as a way of making good decisions about cultural matters (Phil. 1:9-11). As long as our attitudes, viewpoints, and actions do not violate the moral will of God, he gave us the liberty to decide and to be different.

But I said then and I still believe it today, Christian liberty is the least understood and least practiced doctrine of the Bible. I cannot prove this, but I experience it regularly. People in the Church do not allow for differences in others.

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Growing numbers of people in our country and culture do not want people to speak if their views diverge from what the dominant group considers correct. The answer to opposing views is not a free and open debate on the merits of the argument but to silence, somehow to keep the other view from being heard. If it is heard, then the solution is to react with emotional diatribe, victim-claiming, accusations of political incorrectness, or attacks on the character of others who hold the "wrong view." The First Amendment's guarantee of Freedom of Speech is itself, dishearteningly, no longer considered a sacred political ideal for whom men and women have given the last full measure of devotion to protect.

We've come to a point in a so-called post-truth or fake news culture (and Church?) in which polarization is so pronounced we can no longer communicate, resulting in a virtual inability to discuss, much less debate, any social-political issue without becoming defensively partisan, ideological, or upset.

Discussion, at least public discourse, is dead on arrival. I'd like to discuss political issues via social media, but we've come to a point where to do so invites dysfunction.

I think this is sad, a capitulation to the idea few believers practice Christian liberty and a disappearing understanding among the public of what Freedom of Speech means in and to a constitutional republic. The trend, whether from Left or Right, is not good for the future of this country.

Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President SAT-7 USA,
www.sat7usa.org, www.rexmrogers.com,
Author Information
Dr. Rex M. Rogers
Rex M. Rogers (born 1952[1]) serves as President of SAT-7 USA, the American promotion and fundraising arm of SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry by and for the people of the Middle East and North Africa. SAT-7 SAT-7, based in Nicosia, Cyprus, supports quality, indigenous-produced programming on four channels in three languages, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.

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