Humility in Speech
D. Leiva is the editor of The Body Politic. A former staffer for Republican House Leadership, he now works in international development. D. was born into a family with a rich legacy of full-time ministry.
Washington, DC, is a city built for answers. With think tanks, non-profits, lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians the District has problem-solving in its DNA. But do the people that make up the District’s various institutions truly understand the problems they want to solve?
In 1 Timothy 1:6-7, the apostle Paul warns his protégé, “Certain persons ... have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” I realize that Paul was writing to a specific person with a specific purpose, teaching a pastor how to handle people trying to teach the faith without actually understanding it. But I’d like to appeal to the principle of Paul’s words when I say that in our political discourse we can make confident-sounding assertions without truly understanding what we are saying or what we are talking about. I know I’ve done that in the past.
Most recently, as a Congressional staffer, I couldn’t help but worry about my misunderstandings and shortcomings finding their way into my work, but I also had a suspicion I was probably not the only person on the Hill speaking without fully grasping the topic. Yet, in my worst moments (back when I most firmly believed that “Being Republican = Being a Responsible Christian”), this kept me from even considering the opinions of anyone with different viewpoints than me, much less befriending them.
I remember keeping a college acquaintance at a distance during our time together in school because I knew she was on the progressive end of the spectrum. Years later, after reconnecting on social media, we struck up a conversation about internet activism and the Kony 2012 campaign. We found an unlikely alliance not because we agreed on the issue but because she respected me enough to dialogue with me despite disagreeing. I then realized I had missed out on a deeper friendship because I had put my politics before the Gospel.
This obviously ran contrary to Paul’s appeal in Philippians 2:3 to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Sure, at work I was confident (at times) of my research and I provided the best possible answers I could, but it struck me as less-than-humble to not acknowledge the possibilities that 1) the answer(s) I provided may not be entirely right, and 2) the answers provided by my political opponents may also provide suitable solutions to whatever problem we were discussing.
So I am skeptical when I hear politician after politician prescribe their particular solutions as the ultimate, definitive answers to whatever set of ills they’re addressing. Sometimes they sidestep answers entirely, appealing to voters’ emotions and passing their reactions off as fact. Had I practiced humility, I would’ve sought to fully understand the other side better, rather than dismissing it wholesale.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I can’t have opinions and respectfully disagree, but I now strive to not let those disagreements keep me from working together with friends with different views.
Ultimately, I want the Gospel to transform me in all areas of my life, including my political discourse. If I aim to bear my brethren in love with all humility, and gentleness, and patience to eagerly maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace I would do well to remember that my “political opponents aren’t just unfortunate obstacles standing in between [me] and achieving [my] vision – they are human beings made in the image of God and their objections maybe a helpful reminder to check [my] blind spots.”