The recent Four Corners episode about the carbon tax showed just how divisive this issue has become in Australia. They interviewed people who both supported and were against the carbon price. What they didn't show were many people in the middle. Partly, this is because you don't make a good documentary by interviewing lots of people who don't care either way. But I suspect that most people who have an opinion on the carbon price are firmly on one side or the other of the debate. It seems to have become one of those polarising issues that everyone needs to answer yes or no to.
Now who's to blame for this polarisation probably depends on which side you're coming from. Those who support a carbon price tend to blame Tony Abbott and possibly the media. Those who are against probably blame Julia Gillard for bringing in a carbon tax that people don't want. But whoever's to blame, the fact is that polarisation is there. And polarisation is never good.
People often try to prove their point by telling the other side how wrong they are. However, rarely does this actually convince anyone. Instead, it often leads to antagonism and people getting more firmly entrenched in their views. The divide between the two sides grows larger and the accusations and criticisms grow louder.
Because this is an issue that people care deeply about, the focus is probably more on resolving the issue the way we want it resolved, rather than healing that divide. If we think about the divisiveness at all, it's probably hoped that resolving it our way will fix the problem. Those who are against the carbon tax are hoping that if an election is forced, the carbon tax will go away, never to rear it's head again. Those who support the carbon price are hoping that, once it goes through, everyone will realise what a fantastic idea it is and will learn to accept it.
I honestly don't see any of those things happening. The carbon price is not going to go away - and nor is the antagonism towards it. We are so firmly entrenched in our views now that, whatever happens, we're going to keep pushing for the outcome we want. I myself do firmly support a carbon price. If there was an election and Tony Abbott got rid of the carbon price, I'd keep pushing for there to be one. But I know that there are those on the other side who would keep fighting against one too.
I care deeply about doing something about climate change. I believe the God of compassion demands it. We need do something about climate change, because, if we don't, then this world, the people in it, particularly those who are poor, will suffer. However, I know that other Christians who also believe in a God of compassion believe the carbon tax will hurt Australians and families. We both claim to follow a God of compassion and to base our decisions on that. What we need to do is realise that we (whoever our side might be) is not the only side with compassion. And secondly, we need to extend our compassion not just to those who will suffer either because of climate change or because of a carbon price, but to those people who have a different opinion to us.
Our God is not just a God of compassion, but reconciliation. Anyone who claims to follow Christ must not only care about "winning the debate" but healing the relationships that have been damaged because of it.
It's very easy to tell the other side that they're wrong. But what we must do is try to understand why the other side believe that they are right. And we must recognise that both sides believe they have valid reasons for either supporting or not supporting a carbon price. We need to stop arguing and start listening. We need to validate people's fears and concerns, instead of just brushing them aside as 'not based on facts'. We need less antagonism and more understanding, less anger and more love.
A couple of months ago, I prayed about the carbon tax in a bible study. As someone who supports the carbon price, I was definitely in a minority. Most people there don't like it at all. But we can still pray together, not for a certain outcome, but for God's will to be done. And I think that's a start. When we pray with people who we disagree with, we are forced to come to God in humility, realising that His will may not be our will. We are forced to leave our own agenda aside, at least for a few minutes. We also stand together, before God, both imperfect, both sinful, yet both in need of God's grace, mercy and love.