I’ve had so much time lately, one of the amazing side benefits of leaving full-time employment for freelance. I’ve been reading books and studying Scripture and playing with my kids and it has been absolutely lovely. I’m craving information; I’ve always been an avid consumer of news, but in addition to that I am reading poetry and fiction and books about my faith. I just can’t get enough. It is an interesting time to be reading from a multitude of sources.
One of the things the Lord has been teaching me is wisdom in arguing, because we have not only a divided country, but a divided church. And division doesn’t have to be destructive, when handled well, but it does require wisdom.
As Believers simply disagreeing well will be counter-cultural and shine light in darkness.
I am blessed with really diverse friendships; my friends are moderates and hippy liberals and religious conservatives and serious students of geopolitical issues and people who would rather watch E and get the totality of their news off Facebook. And despite our differences, for the most part, we live in harmony with each other. The years of investment we have made in friendship overwhelms any petty disagreements about politics or government. But a few times, disagreements have flared. So what do we do when our beliefs rub up against the beliefs of someone we love?
- We are to be people of peace. It is much less important that someone see your way and agree with you about some political issue than that they know you love them and are there for them. You are not going to argue anyone into the Kingdom, and if you love someone, maybe you should consider giving them grace to understand their motives and heart behind whatever they are doing. We are not, first, Americans or Republicans or Democrats, we are Christ-followers. We do not all share the exact same theology, and that is fine. His command to love each other doesn’t specify people who believe exactly like we do. We love, we show love, we show grace, to everyone.
- We need to realize that, in this heightened political climate, we ALL are defensive. If you are conservative, there are people who have lumped you in with racists or people who are anti-woman, and that stings. If you are liberal, there are people who have lumped you in with violent protesters or people who mooch off the government, and that hurts. None of us deserve to be compared to the tiny segment of worst-case examples of people who share our views. We have all assumed the worst of the other side while expecting our side to get the benefit of the doubt. And it isn’t working, so we are ALL defensive. So take a few minutes, maybe even overnight, before responding to something that stings. Ask yourself “Are they actually saying what I’m reading – or am I assuming the worst based on defensiveness?” And when you realize you are being defensive, simply backing away with an apology will defuse almost any argument. And if you sense someone is defensive and they are attacking, give them grace. Someone cussed me out on Twitter, after I asked a question about a policy, and when I calmly responded he wrote back, “I’m just tired of being called a Nazi and being told I voted wrong.” I wrote back, “I don’t think you’re a Nazi, and don’t even think you voted wrong. Peace be with you.” He apologized, and we actually have started corresponding online and we don’t disagree on everything! Being people of grace is so different in this war of words that it bridges even partisan gaps.
- We need to be wise about motivations behind the argument. We need to be wise to understand, “Am I arguing to understand and bridge this gap, or am I arguing to win?” And then ask this question about the person you are talking to. If the answer is “to win” – from either side, then the argument has trumped the relationship, and you are in dangerous territory. When that is the case, if I am the one putting the argument over the relationship, I will back away and make the relationship right, leaving the argument to the side. If the other person’s motives are winning, I walk away from the argument, conceding the win. Because for me, as a minister of the Gospel of Christ, the argument can never overtake my love for the person. I wonder if this is why Jesus remained silent instead of defending himself before the Sanhedrin? Why defend yourself when someone is determined to find you guilty? I have actually left a job when I realized the person I was in the meeting with was determined to win over working it out, which showed me they had no interest in working with me long-term. Being wise in conflict will show us when to stay and work it out, or when to walk away.
- We need to seek truth, although it is hard to find. Truth is always right, even if it doesn’t defend our position. All truth is God’s truth and we need to never fear finding the truth about a subject (even if it reveals that a party or politician we prefer is lying). Truth is crazy hard to find these days, but it is out there. Source material, fact checking resources, questioning everything is the job of the Believer in a post-truth world. So look for the source material, read the article not only on the news site we prefer, but the opposite side. So we read FoxNews and CNN and New York Times and even Al Jazeera or the BBC to get an international perspective. Don’t buy what you read on Facebook, it’s almost always false. Read fact-checking sources and don’t just believe what someone tells you is fake news. Be openminded to slant. Both sides do it, and we need to be people of truth. Just because something is a talking point of your side doesn’t mean it is accurate or worth defending. I respect people who admit the things the other side does well because all sides do some things well. If you can’t even acknowledge that, then your partisanship has probably overcome your commitment to truth. I’ve recently found http://www.allsides.com, which is a great resource that shows you the slant on all the news of the day.
- We need to look for what we have in common. Do you and I disagree on gun control? Probably. There is plenty we could argue about if we were so inclined. But honestly who really cares, and what difference would it make? Our kids play together and we love each other and you don’t have to believe like me for me to love you. I am proud to have friends who have NRA stickers on their car and friends who won’t own weapons because they take seriously Isaiah 2:4, “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” If our friends all look and believe like we do, what a sad monotone world. Seek diversity in thought and opinion, it’s good for us.
- We need to realize not every fight is our fight. I would much rather be known as the person who loves people over being known as the best political fighter of my time. Our culture wants us to jump in on arguments about politics or theology or religion, and it’s unnecessary. If something is your passion, and you feel like silence is complicity in injustice, then by all means, speak with truth and grace. I’ll be speaking and marching beside you. But sometimes we have to let balls fly past us without swinging (a sports metaphor!). Some things are not our fight to fight, and that is fine. If we are constantly fighting with people, then we probably need to spend more time building relationships with friends instead of instructing them to believe as we believe. Maybe we need a break from Facebook (I’m in the middle of one now and it is wonderful) to remember what is really important. So often I see people speaking condescendingly to people they are supposed to love because someone doesn’t believe the way they believe. They will ignore everything they know of a person, over decades, and lump them in with the worst examples of the side they assume they are taking. Since when do condescension and snobbery and overgeneralization win anyone over to our side? Just let it go, and show the people you love that you love them.
“Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.” 2 Timothy 2:14-17a The Message
It is hard to know how to be a light out there in the world today, but it is still our role. Peace be with you as you make your way through the world, friends.