By Bob Setzer
Every pastor or counselor soon learns: Hearing from only one partner in a troubled marriage gives the listener a very distorted picture of what is going on. It’s not that the spouse unburdening his or her heart is deliberately misrepresenting the dynamics of the marriage. He or she may rightly complain about being treated unfairly or callously by the once beloved husband or wife. But what is almost always lacking in such revelations is any self-awareness of how one sometimes invites, encourages and empowers such a response in the other party in the relationship.
When a counselor can get both parties from a troubled marriage talking to one another rather than about one another, miracles of reconciliation and healing are possible. Such miracles are not quickly or easily won, but they do happen when honest, heartfelt, face-to-face sharing replaces the angry, bitter monologues that went before.
The power of genuine dia-logue — a talking through rather than talking at — was hinted at in that remarkable exchange between the president and some of his fiercest critics Jan. 29 in Baltimore. The president and the Republican members of the House of Representatives went toe-to-toe in a mostly respectful exchange. Granted, hard-liners of both the left and right — like fans watching a title bout — only tallied points for their “champion” as they watched the engagement. But the rest of us — the folks mystified by why Washington has become so petty and mean — were gratified to see political and philosophical enemies talking with one another.
The one-liners, zingers, and sound bites that have characterized recent political debate were replaced by the “Yes, but…” of thoughtful Republican critiques to the president’s usual stump speeches. And the president was able to confront those in the room who have contaminated the political climate by vilifying him instead of contributing to constructive debate. Maybe it was dreaming or wishful thinking on my part, but I thought I saw some “A-ha!” moments on both sides of the aisle: “Oh, I get it. So that’s what’s driving this.”
Don’t hear me saying we’re now dancing merrily down the road to real progress on the many pressing problems facing our nation. That would require many more difficult and challenging conversations like the one last week in Baltimore. And at the end of the day, some Republicans and Democrats have such diametrically opposed visions for America that there is very little compromise to be found. Eventually, after a divisive issue has been fairly examined and debated, the matter must be brought to a vote and settled, at least for now.
But in politics as in life, the simple Christian grace of seeking out an adversary and trying to have a meaningful conversation is an act of hope and healing. For whether that adversary is an ardent political opponent or the most intimate of “enemies,” there is no possibility for a real relationship until honest dialogue begins (Matt. 18:15-18).
Long before we can “love” our enemies, we have to learn to talk with them.