I should know better by now. It’s too easy to put people into categories without knowing much about them. I’ve done it too often in my life. I did it again just the other day.

I met the veteran in a coffee shop to get better acquainted. We had been introduced to each other in a Bible study a few weeks earlier. When the topic that day unfortunately turned to politics, he proudly announced, “I am a conservative.” Most in the group would likely self-identify in the same way.

When I met with Mike, I had already pigeonholed him. After all, I’ve been with conservatives all my life. And until the definition recently changed, I was glad to be labeled as such. Our conversation began with religion and the concerns that most Americans face these days: racial strife, gun violence, ineffective government, and threats to our freedom at home and abroad. We then turned to issues that so often divide even those who follow Christ, abortion being at the top of the list.

Today’s conservatives seem to me to be inconsistent with their pro-life stance. They are adamantly opposed to abortion except in extreme cases, but they’re against gun control and are the first to rally for war when threat is perceived. Almost all of them support capital punishment.

When Mike and I began discussing the death penalty, I was certain of where he stood. But I was wrong. His words stunned me, and I’ll remember them for a long time. In a shaking voice, this man who had served his country as both a soldier and a law enforcement officer, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Russ, I’m against capital punishment. If I’m not willing to be the one to flip the switch or inject the poison or fire the fatal shot, then it would be wrong for me to ask someone else, including the government, to do it for me.”

And I learned yet another lesson on judging others before I know them.