Around this time last year, I was meeting a fellow writer friend to chat about theology, current authors, and women in the church. Because we both have serious issues with GOOD food, we found ourselves at a crepe restaurant where I indulged in a banana nutella crepe, hold the whip cream, add powdered sugar and praise hands.
As we discussed different authors and devoured our brunch, we quickly got off topic on how little it took to get excommunicated in our conservative circles. At the time, a well loved female voice in American Christianity was starting to challenge the status quo and we were noticing how many in our circle were starting the conservative murmurs of disapproval. We knew it was only a matter of time before conservatives pushed her entirely out of our denominational circles. I remember saying, “They’re circling her like vultures just waiting for her to mess up so they can officially denounce her.”
One year later, I was chasing toddlers and doing laundry when my phone dinged from that same friend, “Did you see the interview? ...Evangelical leaders are dancing on her grave.”
And just like that, we’re pushing another fellow believer off of a platform we gluttonously built ourselves.
Listen, I am not about to even touch the debate on a theology of sexuality on this blog. There are some fantastic people on both sides having that discussion and I'm not one of them. I’m also not going to get into the semantics of the interview that birthed this discussion. I’m not taking a side publicly here, but what I am going to do is talk about what to do when we disagree with a Christian author/person we love. Because whatever it is that we’re currently doing… it isn’t working. So, let’s talk.
As of late, I think we can all agree that it’s a pretty scary world out there on social media. Smartphones have made news and interaction easily accessible, people are always documenting everything, and sometimes it feels like folks are just waiting for you to say something they hate so they can GO OFF and lose their minds on social media. And I get it, it’s tempting. I remember losing my mind on twitter one evening stuck in an airport because… well airports… missed flights… bad customer service... you get the idea. And I hate to admit that I succumbed to an adult temper tantrum and taking to twitter to shame my airline. But alas, it's true! I did. (Hey, I’m not proud of it… I’m just admitting that I’ve done it too). It’s not “other” to rant on social media anymore, it’s common place.
But we’ve taken complaining and somewhere along the way it’s turned into attacking. And I’m here as a fellow Christian to plead with you, we have got to stop. We have to figure out how to disagree with people, especially our own Christian family, without ranting on social media. So this blog is two-fold. First what we don’t do & then some suggestions on what to do.
Without further adieu…
1. We do not use another believer’s controversy for our gain & We do not crucify our own.
I think we can all agree that there are many popular bloggers who have made public platforms off of obliterating people with whom they disagree. Entire careers are built on the backs of others’ failures or shortcomings. People are actually making a living off of attacking fellow humans (many of which are a part of our body of believers) and ripping them to shreds. Controversy is their drug as they get a high off of belittling others and the appearance of being right. And these guys get away with it because they take some truth and mix it with character assassination, a little snark, and somehow it goes a long way.
And we hit share and comment our amens with little thought given that these are actual people we’re demeaning. They’re someone’s child, someone’s spouse, someone’s parent, someone’s friend… but most importantly they’re image bearers. Their mere humanity demands respect.
Believer, let me say this loud and clear: Character assassination isn’t Christ-like. It isn’t truth in love. And it is far from godly.
We don’t need blogger watch-dogs telling us who to avoid, what books to burn, and which speakers to crucify. What we need are Christian communities so deeply rooted in the Word that the Holy Spirit is actively moving so that we are able to discern what is true and untrue. If our churches and faith communities are producing people without discernment, that says more about OUR Christian culture and less about the latest hip author we've created a stage for. Change starts with deep discipleship rather than shallow critique. The latter is easier, for sure; but the first will produce real fruit.
And y'all, I think the thing that has been really upsetting for me is watching outsiders watch us eat each other alive. I've literally been told, "Why would I ever want to be a part of a community that crucifies their own?" Our bickering and feeble attempts to "protect" truth has tainted the name of Jesus.
What did Scripture say would be how the world will know if we’re disciples of Jesus? They will know us by our well articulated debates on theological issues and how right we are. Oh wait, no, that’s not quite how that verse goes.
They’ll know us by our love for one another (John 13:35).
Y'all, the world is watching and we have to figure out how to disagree in love.
So what do believers do when we read, hear, or see something we disagree with? How do we LOVE well even when we don’t agree?
1. We seek God’s wisdom through prayer, Scripture, and godly counsel.
Here is what God’s word says,
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” James 3:17
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
If you’re a believer, prayer and God’s word is the first place we go. And although yes, there are times when we study His word to figure out an issue, living a life that is consistently rooted in the Word will bless you in ways you can’t imagine. God’s word is living and active, it renews our mind and changes how we view the world, ourselves, and each other. The deeper our roots are in His word, the less likely we’ll be uprooted by the winds of this world and the more able we are to discern what is true and good. And when something comes along that doesn't seem right, we go back to our primary source. What does Scripture say? How have our church fathers interpreted these passages for centuries? What direction is the Holy Spirit prompting me?
This is a process that takes time and work. It's not a quick solution. But it's one that will have lasting impact on your life and others.
After prayer and reading Scripture, my next recommendation is to seek godly counsel. Talk with your pastors about your issues, read other pastors’ critiques. Talk with other believers that you respect. We live in a world where it is so easy to google search just about anything! Read books, listen to podcasts, take that online class! There are so many resources available, but don’t let these secondary resources outweigh your primary resource: His Living Word.
And while you explore your primary and secondary resources, be sure to keep the good news of Jesus Christ at the center of the disagreement. “Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” is a great mindset to have when entering any theological disagreement! If both parties come to the table reveling in the rich Gospel truth of redemption, it is much easier to stay focused on the goal. Which for the record, isn’t to be right or make the other person see your way; it’s to see Jesus better in light of your disagreement.
2. We pray for the person with whom we disagree.
This is pretty straightforward, beg God to draw your brother or sister near to Him. Plead with Him on their behalf to open both your eyes and theirs to what is true. Pray for favor over your Christian family member.
You’re going to laugh, but I must confess that I did this the other day with Donald Trump. You see, I have a really hard time with him. There is SO MUCH that I disagree with that I easily forget his humanity. Blinded by anger, I forget that God loves Donald Trump and I focus on all of his flaws. But last week, when I was tearing apart Trump in my head, God convicted my heart to start praying for him.
And you know what?! I still have a REALLY hard time with him, but I see him more clearly because of prayer. Trump, like me, is an image bearer in need of a great Savior. And when my face turns red with anger every time he says “The African Americans in the inner cities” I remind myself that I can oppose his rhetoric and ideology while still cheering for his spiritual health.
Praying for people we disagree with is a great discipline that produces great fruit (probably more in our own lives than the person we’re praying for). And I’d wager that this step alone could change the outcome of our disagreements altogether.
3. If we have access to people we disagree with, we engage graciously.
It is absolutely healthy to have disagreements within the body of Christ. They’re inevitable (anyone ever been to a riveting church business meeting??). The key is learning HOW to disagree without it getting ugly. We tend to villainize the opposition, rather than seek to better understand. Rather than letting anger or disappointment be our guiding emotion, let’s choose love & grace instead. Love doesn’t mean we don’t wrestle with truth; it just means we wrestle with each other for truth instead of against each other in the name of truth.
Love means we go to the person. We don’t talk about them behind their back. We don’t attack their personhood. We leave snark and Facebook rants at the door. We go to them in love, asking questions and seeking to better understand. Instead of believing that we are in control of changing their mind, we leave the Holy Spirit’s work to the Holy Spirit and simply converse civilly with the goal of Gospel-centered mutual understanding.
Gospel-centered disagreement says, “Help me see where you’re coming from because I’m just not there yet and don’t know if I ever will be.”
Gospel-centered disagreement says, “I love you and I know you love me, but I can’t get on board with this. But that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning this relationship.”
Gospel-centered disagreement says, “I respect you, but I adamantly oppose this stance. But I know that we both serve a God who loves us dearly, and I’m praying that God changes the heart of whichever one of us is wrong.”
Gospel-centered disagreement says, "I think you're right in this area, but I'm not sure about over here. I'm going to pray and think about that some more. Can we meet again to discuss after I've had more time to process?"
Gospel-centered disagreement takes the focus off of being right and places the focus on Christ-like love instead. There’s just something about an unconditional love that weathers differing opinions that imperfectly points us to a perfect love that loved us in spite of all of our wrongdoing.
I don’t have all the answers and I’m definitely not an expert on how to do this perfectly (although I do have years of examples of what NOT to do). But lately the Lord has been doing a work in my heart and I have been so grieved by how we treat authors, speakers, pastors, and Christian ‘personas.’ It’s one thing to disagree, another thing to push them out of the fold.
Church, we have to learn how to do this better. We have to learn how to love each other well in spite of differences and we have to stop pushing our Christian family off of cliffs. Because the world is watching, and if social media has been our stage I’m afraid we’ve not been giving them the show we were designed to give... the one that points directly to the creator of Love Himself, not ourselves.