Have you noticed the trend away from thoughtful conversation, civility, and compassion? Have you been struck by the increasingly combative nature of communication in the media, the political realm, the online world of social media, and culture in general?
It seems like people have a very hard time disagreeing while still respecting and loving each other.
In a growing number of situations, it seems like people believe that if we don’t agree on specific topics, we must be angry with each other. Or when we stand on the opposite side of the aisle, we hate each other. If we have an honest disagreement, it must ignite into some kind of combat.
I grew up in a home, and a time of history, when people could disagree and still love each other. I remember a time when people could talk civilly, express divergent points of view, and still have lunch, laugh, and do life together. As a matter of fact, I watched my dad and mom disagree with strong and articulate words on many topics and still love each other deeply.
My dad was a strong and articulate Republican. He believed what he believed and would express his views with clarity and conviction. My mom was a staunch Democrat. She headed up the local teachers’ association of the public schools and expressed her convictions openly and with passion and precision. I had the honor of doing my parent’s renewal of their wedding vows at their 50-year anniversary, just a few years before my mom passed away.
I can still remember my parents heading out to vote together, hand in hand. My dad would say something like, “We’re heading out to cancel each other’s vote.” He meant it. He knew that their votes would end up being a net zero because of their antithetical political convictions. My dad and mom believed in the political process and felt that voting was an honor and a privilege. They would remind us kids that many people, in many places, have never had this opportunity through history.
My parents modeled something that seems to be a lost art form in our world. We can disagree and still be civil, loving, and friendly!
In a conflicted, embattled, and embittered time, it is a perfect moment for Christians to lead the way in showing our communities and the world that it is possible to disagree strongly and still be kind, compassionate, and loving.
It is what our Savior did. And, it is what he expects of his followers.
Jesus was the one who hung on a brutal Roman cross and looked at those who had mocked and crucified him and prayed, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). It was our Savior who told a woman caught in the act of adultery that he did not condemn her.
In the same breath, he called her to leave her life of sin (John 8:11).
Jesus is the one who saw you and me in our darkest moment of sin and rebellion and died in our place and for our sins (Rom. 5:8).
What will it take for followers of the Messiah to lead the way in loving people even when we have strong and serious disagreements? Here are some suggestions:
- Have robust conversationswith those you disagree with. Ask good questions about their convictions. Dig deeply into why they believe what they believe. Listen to their answers… not using the time they are talking to mount your attack, but to really hear them and understand them. This is what Jesus did with the woman at the well when his followers were traveling through Samaria (John 4).
- Pray for those who disagree with you and even those who are hostile toward you (Matt. 5:44). Do not pray for their demise, destruction, or for judgment on them. Pray for the light of Jesus to shine, for truth to be known, and for God to work in their life. Pray also for yourself as you seek to love them and understand why they believe what they believe.
- Acknowledge differences and be honest that you have disagreements. Too many people think the way to handle differences is to ignore them. It is far better to admit and face them. I remember one of my dad’s favorite lines. When he was having a vigorous conversation about something he disagreed with, he would say (always with a smile and in a warm-hearted way), “I can’t disagree with you more!” This would lead to more conversation.
- Be willing and ready to learn from those you disagree with. God owns the domain of truth and he reveals it in surprising places and through surprising people. The Bible is full of examples of this.
- Don’t let disagreements give birth to bitterness or hatred. Watch your heart. Be very careful. Satan wants you and me to be gripped with a judgmental and hostile heart. If we become bitter, the door for the gospel is slammed shut and our witness is greatly compromised. We must be able to disagree and still love.
- Beware of caricatures and over-simplification. People are complex in beautiful ways. Don’t put them in boxes or quickly categorize them. Don’t look at a whole group of people, or even a single person, into a narrowly defined category that you have created. Give people the benefit of the doubt and allow time to really get to know them.
Jesus calls us to bring his light, love, and life to our broken and dark world. The only way we can do this is to live like Jesus.
He comes to those who hate him, who are rebels against his ways, and who are lost in sin, and he loves them right where they are.
We must walk in the footsteps of our leader. To do this, we will learn to love those we disagree with. Not only can this be done, it must be done…for the sake of the gospel and the world.
Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, the Founder and Visionary Leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International OrganicOutreach.com, and the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and many other books, studies, and articles. He is also a regular contributor to Outreach Magazine.