I had no idea what I was in for when a former marine came into my office and asked me to mediate a conversation between himself and a man who attended his small group. The marine said this man was completely anti-war. You can already see where this is headed.
I met with them both to hear the story of how the subject of war came up in their group, and it turned into a full-blown political debate. Without knowing there was a veteran in the group, the pacifist complained about the President while also saying some unfavorable things about "the fascist right wing." The former marine is a political conservative, and this raised his blood pressure considerably.
The conversation became an argument with both sides becoming very angry. The marine admitted that he was close to "knocking this guy out," which only reinforced the pacifist's belief that all war and violence is wrong. After a long talk and some prayer, the two men agreed to separate, forgive each other and attend different small groups.
This situation reaffirmed for me a long-held truth: politics and small groups are like crystal drano and gasoline. If you didn't already know, that's a volatile combination.
So during an election year (and all the time, for that matter), how can we keep politics from becoming a problem in our small groups? I'm glad you asked. Below are some bullet points that will help equip you and your small groups to avoid a political black hole.
- Address it up front. Agree within your group to not talk politics. Address the fact that politics can be divisive by nature, and as the body of Christ, we are never to allow the devil a dividing foot-hold.
- Address it immediately. Agree that anyone and everyone in your group has permission to immediately address it when someone in the group breaks the "no politics" rule.
- Address it on the back end. If and when someone brings up politics in your group, be sure to talk about it with that person in private. Remind the person that it is vital to maintain group unity.
- Address it with love. Everyone in the group must understand the biblical mandate to love one another unconditionally, and that we should treat one another with respect. No matter how passionately we may feel about a political subject or view, we must never let it outweigh our passion for loving one another as Jesus loves us.
At the end of the day, let's just admit that it's okay for Christians to hold different views on a variety of topics. We also have to admit that controversial political issues will never be settled for all Christians—especially during a small group discussion.
So if you we are going to err, let it be on the side of love, not politics.
—Alan Danielson; copyright ©2008 by the author and Christianity Today.