Can You Be Friends With Your Social Opposite?

I’ve spent a lot of time on the couch this week. That is what happens when you are not feeling well and are recovering from passing out in worship.

I took advantage of the rest by enjoying the day simply relaxing and getting some things done for the week. I caught up on my DVR recordings of new shows. I can vouch for the quality of “Bluff City Law” and “All Rise,” while I believe the jury is still out on “Carol’s Second Act.” I also played more than my fair share of games on my tablet. And I got caught into a story that made its way around the news cycle Tuesday.

The story focused on comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres receiving backlash for sitting with former President George W. Bush at a recent football game. Yes, you read that correct. One of the biggest stories of the day was a talk show host and a former president sharing nachos while watching the Cowboys.

Why?

Many were upset at how DeGeneres could sit with President Bush or have any type of relationship with him. The argument goes that DeGeneres, who is gay and a prominent progressive, should not associate with someone that is seen as being against her lifestyle. Several were calling for her show to be cancelled.

I’m not making this up.

This seems to be a common aspect of our partisan divide. We have come to believe that having a friendship with anyone who is politically, socially, or culturally different than we are is a violation of our standards and principles and should not be allowed. We believe our friendships and conversation partners should only be in homogeneous groupings where everyone thinks the same and has the same values.

It is not just a problem for one side of the partisan divide. There are Republicans who refuse to have anything to do with anyone who voted for Hilary Clinton. There are Democrats who refuse to have anything to do with anyone who voted for Donald Trump. We can take this type of behavior even out of the realm of politics. There are people who will refuse to have a conversation with someone simply because of what church they belong to, what team they like, or author they have read.

We have gotten ourselves to the point where if there is one aspect of a person that we struggle with, then we immediately discard the entire relationship. That is not healthy, nor does it lead to anything productive. It enhances our divisions and separates us from one another to the point where it becomes impossible to understand another person.

Relationships and conversations with people who are different than us is a key component to life and our faith in Christ. The Gospels routinely tell us how Jesus did things that were seen as socially unacceptable in his time. He ate with sinners, when people believed that you did not associate with anyone who had committed a sin. He welcomed women into fellowship, when people did not believe women could be trusted. He gathered at the home of Pharisees, even when they were often antagonizing and challenging his teaching. He traveled through Samaria, a land that was off limits, which gave him a different perspective on the people there.

Jesus routinely did what we are often unwilling to do in today’s time – have relationships with people who are different than we are.

The only way we will break through our divisions is by seeking to build relationships with people who have a different view or opinion than we do. Doing so, especially with regard to topics of theology, politics, and life, will actually help us to become more secure in who we are and the opinions we carry.

We need to get back to the days of Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan. They would argue over the substance of legislation and the future of the nation, but then share a meal with one another at the end of the day.

What would it look like for you to build a relationship and start a conversation with someone who is different than you are? How might that help you to see that person in a different light? As well, how might it help you grow as a person?

These are questions we should not run away from, saying that it would hurt us to engage in them. These are the very core principles of life, evident in Jesus’ own actions, that we need to take on again.

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