In talking with a friend today about our love/hate relationship with the city in which we live – Sioux Falls – a thought occurred to me. One of the things that frequently frustrates me about being a blue person in what is, historically, the reddest state in the nation, is the degree to which conservatism is taken for granted. When driving around Sioux Falls in my 20-year-old stick shift car, the most frequent way in which this conservatism is obvious is through bumper stickers.
Granted, my car has a lot of bumper stickers, but they’re not political in nature. I am not against bumper stickers, per se, but I am against putting a complex, nuanced, political topic in a short one-sentence sticker. It is often nothing more than an unsupported, prideful assumption that presumes agreement.
For example, when walking in a grocery store parking lot, I frequently find myself seized by the urge to pull out a piece of paper and leave an impassioned response to stickers that assert wild claims, like access to guns being a harbinger of peace (in reality, states with the loosest gun laws actually have higher rates of murder per capita than states whose gun laws are considered strict).
We have an urge, on both sides of the political spectrum, to reduce our political positions to a trite slogan. We tell people that “Abortion stops a beating heart,” which fails to acknowledge the fact that 90% of abortions are performed weeks before a heartbeat can be detected. We write “WWJD: Pro-life or Pro-choice?” which fails to acknowledge the nuance of definitions behind each of those words. We says “Every child a wanted child,” without acknowledging that some abortions are performed for women who desperately wanted a child but couldn’t keep it for whatever reason.
It is a great triumph of propaganda machines that we are able to boil down an extremely nuanced and detailed political stance into a slogan, that we are able to ignore the vast amounts of research in favor of an ideological position that makes those who agree with us go “hell yeah!” and those who disagree groan and contemplate flipping off the car as we pass.
And it’s done wonders for political discourse – I meet people all the time who consider these slogans as legitimate means for argument on a nuanced issue. The more controversial the issue, the more likely a person is to rely on slogans, which is a remarkable development. This is most obvious in the abortion debate, something I don’t touch on very often on this space.
But I’d like to enter this plea for those embroiled in the abortion debate: It is important to have facts, knowledge, critical thinking, empathy and nuance to your position no matter which side of the debate you fall on. Relying on a bumper sticker slogan and information you see that is packaged as easily digestible and quickly repeated as talking points fails to address the nuance and grace of a beneficial political discussion.
So, please, no more of this “I survived Roe v. Wade,” “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” or the insulting “I think…therefore I am pro-life/pro-choice!” (all are actual slogans I’ve seen tossed around).
Especially as Christians, we need to take care to acknowledge our “opponent” as having opinions that are legitimate to them and make an effort to understand them. You do yourself and your position a disservice when you do not take the time to research and understand the complexity of the issue.
And for God’s sake, think twice before you buy that bumper sticker.