Context is king, even in politics

In a bible-verse showdown, my grandaddy taught me the importance of context when arguing your point.

As the presidential elections reach their last few days, I’ve been thinking about my grandfather.

He died nearly 30 years ago at the age of 88, and over that time, he had been a school teacher and principal, an electrical contractor and a farmer. But he also was a minister, and knew his bible backwards and forwards.

So, imagine the day a couple of missionaries appeared on his front porch. Their mission that day was to convert my grandfather, but they didn’t know who he was. They were just going farm to farm.

My brother, Dennis, was there that day, and witnessed the exchange. They were asking him questions about whether he was saved, and if he believed he’d be going to heaven. My grandfather was polite, but disagreed with some of their theological points.

They pulled out their bibles, and started quoting verses that supported their view. And this is where my brother says, Grandaddy smiled, Game on.

For each verse they’d read, Grandaddy would counter with either the verse before or the verse after. It’s important to note that Grandaddy didn’t have a bible in his hand; it was all in his head, and he was well into his 80s.

But he had those two missionaries rifling through their bibles looking for new passages, and each time, Grandaddy would counter, “But the next verse says …“ or “chapter X says …”

The missionaries left that day without a convert, after having their theological butts handed to them.

Grandaddy’s point that day--and mine today--is that context is critical.

In this era of sound bites and twitter feeds, it’s too easy to lose the context of what someone is saying, whether it is Romney’s "47 percent" or President Obama’s "They didn’t built that" comments.

So don’t rely on one newspaper, website or network news channel. Read points of view that you disagree with. And don’t ignore facts that don’t support your argument because those are the ones that will beat you.

I don’t know who my grandfather would vote for in this election. In some areas, Grandaddy was ultra-conservative, and in others, more progressive than either presidential candidate.

I know he’d vote, and that he’d have well-thought out reasons for how he cast his ballot. It’s an example we should all try to follow.


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