We love giving our opinions. We love giving evidence to the truth of our opinions, and we don’t like listening to opposing opinions. I feel like this describes almost all of us when it comes to social media. When something happens in our culture, we are quick to spout out what we believe and then consequently tell others why we disagree with them and why our opinion is correct.
What do we gain from doing this? What are our motives for trying to prove someone wrong? Are we doing this because we love them, or are we just trying to make sure they hear our opinion?
In our church service on Tuesday evening, we had a fantastic sermon on the beatitudes and being peacemakers. The main Scripture that was used was Matthew 5:9:
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”
I know I’m the first person I should be talking to about peacemaking. I get so caught up in fighting for what I believe and for people that I can end up alienating those I disagree with. This sermon was immensely necessary for me to hear. The pastors who spoke (a male and female team from a church in North Denver called, “The Refuge”) also talked about the “third way.”
Basically, in disagreeing with others and in wanting to spout our opinions, we tend to do one of two things: fight or flee. We either will fight tooth and nail for what we believe, or we will run away from the conversation altogether. I’m sure none of you will be surprised at which one I struggle with. Even though these are our natural responses, they aren’t correct if we truly want to have an honest and respectful conversation with another individual. We are not called to either fight OR flee, but rather we are called to be peacemakers in all situations of life. This is the “third way.” These pastors gave us 5 tools to aid us in having a “dignified dialogue.”
Practicing Dignified Dialogue
- Consider first: “That person is first and foremost a child of God, created in God’s image, worthy of dignity and respect.”
- I hardly think that anyone would be confused about why this is the first and most important step in having a dignified conversation with another person. Too many times I’ve been treated unfairly by those who disagree with me, and recently I’ve even had my salvation questioned because I support legal gay marriage. I've also seen this with friends who also support gay marriage, and unfortunately I've even seen people's salvation questioned simply because of their political affiliation. This is not okay. If we want to be lights in the world and show people what Christ is like, we must treat one another with respect and dignity. The same is true of how we treat non-Christians. How can we expect to win anyone for Christ if we are rude to them and only care about their political opinions? This may look different in different situations. Sometimes this may mean declining to comment on someone’s post about what they believe. Sometimes it means not sending the person a private message explaining exactly why you disagree with them. And sometimes it simply means you consciously decide to actually listen to why they believe what they do (more on that in a second).
- Ask questions to clarify understanding instead of only make statements.
- If you notice, this specifically says, “to clarify understanding.” This means we ask questions in order to gain a better understanding of why someone believes what they do. Unfortunately, I see this misused all the time. Instead of having intentions of wanting to understand more fully, we ask leading questions to get people to admit that we’re right. Which, if we’re honest, almost never works. We end up making people more angry and frustrated by asking those leading questions. Everyone knows we’re doing it, and we’re not impressing anybody by doing so. Instead, we tend to come across as arrogant when we ask these leading questions, because it makes us look like we see ourselves as smarter and better than the other person. And that is a sure-fire way to lose any respect in a discussion.
- Stick with “I think,” or “My opinion is,” or “My interpretation of the Bible is,” or “I understand the Bible to be saying…” instead of making generalizations like “God says,” or “God thinks,” or “the Bible says.”
- I think this is the one I may get the most pushback on, but it’s the one I feel the most strongly about by far. Much too often, we tell others our opinions and use “it’s what the Bible says” in order to give our claim more clout. I know I’ve done this in the past, and I deeply regret it. When we do this, we alienate those who disagree with us. It makes those who disagree feel like they’re just wrong for believing what they do, and it’s our job to set them on the “right path.”
Honestly, if there’s anything at all that I learned from attending Bible school, it’s that so many different interpretations of Scripture exist in the world, and each interpretation is mixed with an individual’s upbringing, denomination, and social surroundings. What used to be considered as “absolute truth” is now being questioned. For example, for a long time and for some denominations still head coverings were considered biblical. Yet, as we look around, fewer and fewer women are wearing headcoverings. Do I believe in absolute truth? Definitely. I’ve met Christ-seeking people on all ends of the spectrum of different beliefs, and not once have I questioned their faith because we disagree on certain topics (gay marriage being one of them, along with whether the creation account is real or a myth).
To those who are afraid of absolute truth not being believed anymore, I give you this challenge: what if we won’t know what’s “absolutely true” until we get to heaven? What if we get to heaven and God just looks at us, laughs, and says, “that’s not what I meant at all.” Please give others respect by realizing that your interpretation of Scripture could be incorrect, or maybe both of you are incorrect on some level. What’s most important is that we both look to Jesus for our salvation, and we know it’s not of our own doing that we are saved. Everything else is peripheral, and if we end up being wrong when we enter heaven, then we’ll deal with that thenAnd, honestly, I doubt God will care what our beliefs were on homosexuality and gay marriage. I think he’ll care much more if we loved him, loved others, and cared for the widows and orphans.
4. Remember that this is an opportunity to listen and learn, not to convince, give advice, or change anyone else.
- I really, really hope that none of us think that by spouting our opinions on social media, we’ll somehow change someone’s mind if we just attack the situation hard enough. I’ve been lucky enough to witness beneficial conversations where each person felt respected and understood what the other party believed, but this is a rarity. Too often I see people completely overlook what the other person has said and continue to dive deeper into trying to convince them of why “I’m right and you’re wrong”. What if that person continues to disagree with us? What if nothing we say, no matter how passionately we say it, will convince the other person that we’re right? What if they already know the “right” answers, and thus have no interest in hearing advice about reading certain passages of Scripture or books? What if this person has already been in a season of questioning and has changed their beliefs on the other side of that season? We cannot possibly know everyone’s stories or thought lives, no matter how well we think we know that person. Giving others a chance to speak and actually learning from them is the only way to earn that same respect from others.
5. Honor the time with brevity and give others a chance to finish their thought before sharing yours.
- How many times has this happened? How many times have we been in conversation with someone, and instead of actually listening to them, we’re just waiting for them to stop talking so we can continue inserting our opinion? I know I’ve done that multiple times in the past.When we do this, we’re not actually listening or processing what the other person is saying. Our goal in these situations is not to gain a better understanding of where the other person is coming from. It’s to make sure we get our point across no matter what. This leads to frustration, alienation, and division in our conversations with others, and it’s not at all what Christ has called us to. It’s important for us all to listen to one another fully. If we don’t listen to others, there’s no reason for them to listen to us. We must earn the right to be listened to by listening to others first. And once we do, we will realize our thoughts are respected much more.
I believe that if we employ these 5 techniques while in conversation with others, we will not only discover understanding toward those we disagree with, but we will also realize that instead of creating division, we are creating a sense of community. We’re creating a safe place for others to be who they are and to express themselves in a healthy way. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn that we may not have all the answers to Scripture and life—and that’s okay.