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It’s almost Election Day: Gentle dialogue in an era of heated debates, fiery conversations

by | Oct 31, 2022

Religious sisters in their iconic habits and veils are a quiet sign of contradiction in a world roiled by overheated debates and controversy.

“Just a few more days and it will all be over,” The Soulful Catholic told herself earlier this week.  No, not life in general — the election! And heaven knows rational adults will heave a sigh of relief when the 24/7 political commercials and stacks of campaign materials clogging mailboxes have come to a halt.

It’s not that debate isn’t welcome or important; it’s that politics has become blood sport these days. Now would be an excellent time for us to take a collective deep breath and evaluate how we listen and how we speak to those with whom we disagree.

Just look at what Peter (arguably a bit of a hothead) tells the early Christians: “Finally, all of you should be united in spirit, sympathetic, filled with love for one another, compassionate and humble (1 Peter 3:8).”

Do those words describe your last conversation with someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum?

Maybe not. It can be challenging to not get into an overheated conversation when the other person’s politics permit or perpetuate evil. And yet, listen to what else Peter tells the early Church: “Do not repay evil with evil or abuse with abuse. On the contrary, repay with a blessing. This is what you were called to do so that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).”

I’m thinking about a recent costume party my husband and I attended where a woman was dressed in a nun’s garb that featured a rounded belly mimicking advanced pregnancy. This isn’t a novel costume by any means, but still. Ouch. It’s hard to not think of the millions of women religious through the centuries who have prayed, fasted, taught, nursed and led the faithful. It’s hard not to envision the ones who gave their lives as martyrs. It’s hard not to see this “costume” as mocking the untold sacrifices of myriad religious sisters.

But back to the party: It was a crowded affair, and everyone was having a great time mingling and chatting with each other. The woman in the fake habit sidled up and we had a pleasant conversation about our families. She told me about her work and then inquired about mine.

That’s when I let her know that I worked for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

Her eyes widened and she blushed a little. “This costume — um, I hope it’s OK,” she said a little sheepishly.

I smiled. “Well, you’re wearing what we call a habit. Many of our religious sisters think of it as their wedding gown, because they are the bride of Christ. Each community has its own distinctive habit. The women vow to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience.”

I didn’t have to tell her the costume was offensive or insulting or in poor taste. I only had to share gently and sincerely about our Catholic faith and how our religious sisters are revered.

Her gaze grew thoughtful. And something tells me she won’t be wearing that costume again anytime soon.

It makes me wonder: How can we reset the national debate so that people engage one another thoughtfully and respectfully? How can we bring the light of Christ into a narcissistic, power-hungry, post-Christian society? How can we listen better?

Perhaps before losing our cool in a debate or discussion, we should remind ourselves to see others — especially those who believe and think differently than we do — as made in the image of God and for whom Jesus Christ shed His precious blood. Jesus tells us to love our enemies; let’s not forget that includes our political opponents.

Paul tells us the fruits of the Holy Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).” Let us pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on every single one of us.

Election Day approaches, yes, but we know the One who has already won the victory and who triumphs over every evil. May His name be ever on our lips as we proclaim hope, truth and peace to a broken world.

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