Having conversations with those who disagree.

Here in the States, there is a saying “never discuss politics or religion in polite company”. This is one of those pieces of advice, which I wish wasn’t so helpful (kinda like, “the early bird catches the worm”). I’m sure that at some point in your life you have stumbled upon or have been in the middle of an argument about politics, or religion. Just yesterday I walked into the tail end of a heated argument, between two of my friends on the subject of religion.
Too often, Instead of working through the pros and cons, we seem to prefer just simply present our opinions, without really considering the other. I don’t know about you, but to me, the fact that we do this is a little strange. You would think that if there was ever a topic, which we would be capable of handling in a responsible way, politics and/or religion would be it.
Now I’m not going to go into why this happens, I do have an opinion, but speculating about the why question, isn’t very productive. So instead, I want to ask two more pointed questions. The first to Christians who find themselves in these kinds of arguments often, and the other to those who stay out of them. I will also only be focusing on religion, from this point on. If you are in the argumentative group my question is, do you think that having heated debates is the way Christ teaches us to handle religious disagreements? If you are in the other group my question is, does Jesus teach us to avoid opportunities to share what he has taught us with others, or to take them?
If you’re not sure about how to answer either, I think that Peter provides a good perspective for both questions.
In 1 Peter 3:15-16 it says,

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

From what I have seen, Christians usually fall into one of those two groups mentioned above. One being the overbearing beat you to death with the Bible people, and the other being the, “don’t ask me” people. I don’t think that you can take an honest look at 1 Peter 3:15-16 and conclude that it’s right to be in either camp (or at least, in the camp extremes). As Christians, we are Christ’s representatives here on earth. In other words, if someone doesn’t know God, then their understanding of what God says and does, is based on what you say and do. It doesn’t matter if you are a good example or a bad one, you are the example. This is a huge responsibility and one that I think we are taking far too lightly in today’s church.
So, how can we start moving towards the middle? Well, over the years I have learned three, “tricks” from observing Jesus (as he is recorded in the gospels), and they have helped me become a better more effective representative of Christ. Now I’m not perfect, (not by a long shot), but these tips have helped.
The first is getting to know the Bible. Now I’m not talking about memorizing Bible verses or “the right answers”, I’m talking about reading the Bible with the purpose of letting it teach and change who you are. There is a difference between knowing that James 1:5 says that you should ask God for wisdom, when you are lacking and God being your go-to counselor.
The next thing that I have found very helpful, is making sure that I have the proper intentions going in. When Jesus came down, he didn’t come to “prove he was right”, he came down to share what he had (eternal life) with us. I have found that this perspective (of sharing what has been given to me) not only helps me keep cool when others are getting frustrated, but it also gives me a desire to learn how to better answer people’s questions, and explain the word more accurately. It also helps me get up the courage I need, to start religious conversations or ask to pray for people. The last tip I have is prayer, one of the things about Jesus, which we don’t spend enough time talking about, is that he often asked for God’s direction. This is an example, which I would highly recommend you follow very closely.

Remember, Christianity is not a religion that backs down from conflict, questioning, or disagreements. C.S Lewis puts it like this, in Mere Christianity,

“the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.’ The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’ For Christianity is a fighting religion.”

At the same time, Christianity doesn’t operate outside of the parameters of love, as seen in 1 Peter 3.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you togive the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

Finally, Christianity doesn’t adjust itself, when you get uncomfortable, or when you find it hard to do what it asks. It is what it is, and our job as followers of Christ is to learn how to do that, to the best of our ability. So, when it comes to having those conversations, I would encourage you to reflect on the way you handle them, and discern (with prayer) whether or not, you are being an accurate representative of Christ. I don’t know about you, but I am very glad I follow a God who is willing to take the time and teach me how to handle difficult situations with the same grace and wisdom that he does.
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