In many ways what you are reading is a continuation of Violence in Social Media, pt.4 and pt.5. I did, however, want to expand the topic beyond Facebook and other online means of communication and include some general thoughts on how we interact with those we disagree with.
Personal convictions and opinions
Everyone has convictions and opinions. This is to be expected. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. The problem with strong convictions and strong opinions (whether they be over political or theological issues) is that we have a tendency to convince ourselves that God thinks the same way we do. Once we’ve assumed that God is on our side it is easier to close down our thinking, condemn and confront those who think differently than we do rather than staying open, inquisitive, and accepting. We start with an opinion that turns into a distinction that turns into a wall that turns into a judgment. We must learn to stop after the opinion.
When in the process of confronting error or describing differences of opinions I come across to the other person like I’m challenging or confronting them, cornering them, accusing them, mocking them…I fail. It’s possible to win an argument and still lose.
Using a violent and belligerent approach never works. Why? Because the one being challenged feels attacked and becomes defensive and protective. Since debate and arguments almost always become mean-spirited they seldom result in changing the thinking of those doing the debating.
Why do some Christians feel such a need to defend their position and disarm their opponent?
- Wounded pride: “How dare you say I am wrong.”
- Fear: “The world (and the church) is slipping into hell. Someone has to defend the truth before it’s too late.”
- Human nature: It’s in our blood to form tribes, and tribes must be defended.
- Feeling threatened: When we feel in danger we have two options; we either run away or take a stand and fight. We don’t want to run away because that seems like we are giving up, which, of course, would be wrong because (fill in the blank) is so important. Therefore the only option in situations like this is to stand and fight.
When two people debate or argue, the result is never changed minds but instead a wounded and reinforced pride in one or both. Those listening in on the argument may change their way of thinking but it is at a great cost.
We all have a strong ego need to be right and belong to a group who is right. Everybody wants to know whose team you are on. Everybody wants to know which team they are on. Everybody wants to be on the winning team. Everybody thinks that the other team is inferior. Some think the other team is the enemy.
What if there were no teams? What if we refused to play the game?
There are extremes within every group, political or theological. On one end you have fundamentalists and on the other, progressives. But then you have conservative progressives and liberal progressives. There are conservative conservatives and liberal conservatives. Everyone can be labeled but because there can be varying degrees of every label (some liberals are conservative on some political and theological issues) labels seldom accurately describe an individual. The degrees can be important but we tend to forget the degrees and look only to the label. When we label, we limit.
When we label a person there is almost always some contempt attached:
I disagree with you.
I label you.
I think I am better than you.
Violence doesn’t work
You will never convince someone they are wrong by using violence in any way, shape, or form.
Jesus said, “…if you don’t have a sword, buy one. (Luke 22:36) Our problem is that we have bought more than one. Our personal sword collection grows and grows.
“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)
Previously Jesus had told them that the two most important laws from the Old Testament were, love God and love people. After that Jesus added his own law…love one another. We (the church) have consistently failed at both. We swing our swords at our non-Christian culture and thrust our blades into our fellow Christians. Paul called the Bible the sword of the Spirit and Christians have been stabbing people with it ever since.
When it’s time to dig in your heels make sure you are not standing on someone’s back. It’s better to try and untie knots rather than cut them. I don’t want to always be grinding an ax and looking for something to chop.
I want to reserve swinging my ‘sword of truth’ for the devil, never for my brothers and sisters. With my sisters and brothers, may the sword be gently laid on the ground as we gather around it, sit down to study it together while holding hands.
We must judge our attitudes and actions towards those we disagree with according to I Peter 2:17:
Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
I want my life to be a bridge rather than a wall. When enemies refuse to talk all that remains is war. I don’t want to make enemies, I want to make friends and when I disagree with someone I want other options than war.
In part one of this series I mention Mohandas K. Gandhi’s two volume Non-Violence In Peace And War. Reading excerpts from this book I learned three Hindu words:
Satyagraha = Resistance by nonviolent means.
Satyagrahi = One adhering to the principle of satyagraha.
Ahimsa = Nonviolence as a principal governing every area of life. This word was coined by Gandhi.
Gandhi regarded Jesus as the personification of non-violence. I believe ahimsa is a principle all followers of Jesus must live by. Ahimsa has at its root the idea of loving people, being at peace with people, showing kindness and respect to all people…especially those we disagree with. Ahimsa is a reflection of the Prince of Peace. Ahimsa breaks down walls rather than building them. A person living by Ahimsa would rather have a wall fall on them than erect a wall to separate people.
In 1964 Thomas Merton wrote a commentary on this work of Gandhi called: Gandhi On Non-Violence. At the end of his introduction Merton says,
“Peace cannot be built on exclusivism, absolutism, and intolerance. But neither can it be built on vague liberal slogans and pious programs gestated in the smoke of confabulation. There can be no peace on earth without the kind of inner change that brings man back to his right mind.”
If order for us to come back to our right mind and embrace the law of Christ (love one another) we will need an inner change. It can happen.
Coming up next: Belligerent pt. 8: Changes In My Theology