Tag Archives: debate

Tell Me Something I Don’t Need to Know

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megafoneI have a new online comment policy that I’m testing out. I’m trying to not tell people everything I know all at once.

You know those comment threads that go on for paragraph after paragraph? I’m trying to stop that.

Who wants to read a short essay each time I leave a comment?

So far, it’s worked out pretty well. When I was tempted to write a lot in the comments at someone’s blog, I just dropped in a link to a relevant article. As it turned out, the blogger already knew about that article and my perspective.

Conversation over. No need to duke things out. I’m glad he knows about my point of view. If it doesn’t work for him, a long, rambling blog comment won’t change his mind.

Despite this success, I somehow entered into a comment thread on Facebook that turned into a series of short essays by one particular person. Ironically, when I pointed out to the essayist that her long, rambling comments weren’t readable or convincing, she decided to leave a few more.

I think I know how she feels. It’s like you run into someone who HAS to be wrong. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde transformation where you just… can’t… stop… typing. On and on you type. It’s like drinking salt water—only leaving you thirsting to type more. “If I just put it right, he’ll change his mind!”

Of course the conversation topic was women in ministry.

This woman was a complementarian frustrated with the way egalitarian’s such as myself play fast and loose with the Bible.

She presented her “airtight” case based on several bits of scripture that are quite popular with complementarians.

I’d like to step back for a moment and consider what’s going on when someone like me or her starts to list out arguments online like this. There is a presumption that the other party doesn’t know something. Supplying the information in a convincing format will make the difference, right?

Well, I discovered that as awesome as my link may have been, that particular blogger wasn’t convinced. After recovering from the shock that someone… disagreed with me, I had to back off. Well, back off or throw more arguments into the comments, most likely wasting my time and his time.

And there’s something even bigger going on when we engage in these long, drawn out debates in our Facebook and blog comments. We’re throwing information at people we don’t know without any clue about their background, experiences, or knowledge.

This woman didn’t know it, but I’d spent years—and I mean years—studying everything I could find about those verses that she interpreted for me with such certainty. I’d interacted with the champions for her view. I’d also written long papers taking her line of reasoning to task.

Am I right? I think so, but hey, you never know. However, I think a lot of the frustration we hit in these online debates and discussions is the lack of knowledge about the other party. I’ll admit, it’s really frustrating to invest so much time (and money, hello seminary loans) into sorting through a really weighty issue and then being lectured as if I just needed someone to explain it to me on Facebook.

It will always be tough to sort through these tough debates if we don’t know who we’re talking to and what they know.

My suspicion is that I always assume I know more. Always. Things become complicated when the other party feels the same way.

Unless we know who we’re talking to, we’ll just continue dumping information onto others who don’t want it.

I will admit that my sarcastic side was tempted to write to this complementarian, “If I agree with you, does that I mean I’ve submitted to your authority and you’ve instructed a man?” I didn’t, but I thought about it—a lot.

Yeah, as I’ve ably demonstrated, most of the time our online debates don’t actually result in the sharing of useful information.

Why Nice Isn’t Good Enough Sometimes

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hand_grenadeI once heard John Perkins, a pastor, author, and civil rights leader, describe a conversation that exploded my notions of Christianity. It’s probably going to do the same thing for you.

Perkins, a man who had actually reconciled with the murderer of his brother, said that he had recently finished speaking at a church when a young woman approached him. She said something like this, “My grandmother supported segregation, but she was a dedicated Christian who was nice to everyone.”

Perkins replied, “Well, your grandmother was a bigot!”

Sometimes being a nice Christian isn’t enough when you’re contributing to injustice. Being nice doesn’t undo the degrading of another person.

I write this dressed in clothing that may have been made by poorly treated workers on a computer that was almost certainly manufactured by workers who were overworked and underpaid. Am I part of the problem? How can I doubt that?

I some days wonder if I have any integrity to speak of justice. I try to do things here and there to serve the poor, and I still struggle with the fact that I profit from injustice. However, I’m doing a few things to address injustice where I’m at, and one of the areas where I feel called to speak is with inequality and women. I write this as someone trying to undo a few wrongs, even if there is much that remains to be done.

Where I’m Coming From

I want to begin by explaining that I believe women are created to be fully equal to men. I know there are some Christians who disagree with that, saying that God created a kind of hierarchy. I used to belong to that camp, but I don’t any more. I’m not going to argue points.

I only want to say that I am one of many Christians who believes in gender equality because I find that the most compelling way to read scripture. I tried the other way, and too many passages from scripture fell apart in the process, forcing me to pick and choose which ones to take “literally.”

That’s just my story and my perspective. I believe the Bible makes men and women equal in the image of God. I understand that some followers of Jesus disagree with me.

What I Hear

When I hear someone argue that the Bible makes women somehow unequal to men, there really isn’t any way to dress up that perspective for me. As a former member of that camp, I understand there’s no malice intended. I know there’s a simple desire to obey the Bible.

Some even try to be nice about it.

Whether nice or judgmental toward me, I keep hearing the same thing: injustice. Saying that women are anything other than what God made them to be smacks  me as flat out wrong. There are two irreconcilable perspectives here.

We can’t find middle ground. Women are either fully equal to men in God’s created order or they’re not. Even if I hear nice words coming from those who deny that equality, I still hear injustice. I can’t help that.

How I React

Though I understand that few, if any, people who “downgrade” women are malicious in their intent, I still find myself reacting strongly with waves of heartbreak and anger. It’s hard to fight back these feelings as I hear someone tell a woman she is somehow less in the sight of God—even if it’s dressed up “nice” as a different calling.

I know that we can’t make a one to one correspondence with racism here. I’m not out to paint anyone as a villain. However, anyone denying the equality of women believes in something that is unjust in my reading of scripture, and it devastates me in so many ways.

In writing all of this, I hope I can at least explain why these discussions about women and ministry and women and equality become so emotionally charged. Both sides really do want to remain true to the Bible. I have no doubt in my mind about that since I’ve belonged to both camps here.

However, I can also sense that those who support full equality have an edge, even a chip on their shoulders that isn’t always understood. We aren’t just having a theology debate here. We’re talking about the something so deeply personal and powerful for half of the people on this planet. This is a matter that can literally alter the life choices of thousands if not millions of women. This is an issue that ties into personal worth as much as it does to ministry and theology.

I don’t think those who quote scriptures about women remaining silent understand the hornet nest they’re stirring up. I’m not saying we can’t have these discussions, but I think we should only enter into them with two things in mind:

  • A full commitment to actually having a discussion where we share our stories and how we arrived at our beliefs rather than fighting to convert one side to the other.
  • An understanding that so much is at stake for those who believe in equality—enough that it may be hard to keep a cool head.

Equality for women is one of those issues where I’m continually reminded that the internet is a terrible place for discussion and debate. I hope each side continues to recognize that God is working among them. I hope discussions continue to happen in the appropriate forums. I hope that we can build more understanding.

At the same time, we’re arguing over a matter of justice—at least one side of this debate is. The stakes are high. Denying the equality of women with a nice, rational argument stings every bit as bad as a caustic remark. That’s just the reality we have. May God give us wisdom and grace to know when to keep our comments to ourselves and to dispense grace and peace instead of conflict.

Loyalty to God and One Another: On Heresy

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Have you ever noticed that Christians sometimes disagree? You have? Oh, man, what a shocker, right?

A recent kerfuffle amongst Christians, the chosen vs. the choosers you could say if you wanted to be imprecise, has me thinking about our priorities, the impact of our disagreements, and some ways we can take positive steps forward. In fact, for all of the hand-wringing and such, I’m a bit hopeful.

Why?

Defining the Situation

We need to get a brief handle on a few guidelines here for disagreements. There are disagreements among Christians over beliefs of different traditions and there are times when Christians disagree because one side is a heretic.

Our greatest mistake seems to be making a disagreement over beliefs within the faith into a heresy smack-down, with one side playing the part of the inquisition, turning Lewis’ great house of Christianity into a studio apartment—an apartment that John Calvin has crammed with his stuff in this particular case. I’ve also seen studio apartments for Catholics, Baptists, Arminians, etc. We all do this from time to time.

We have a pastor and blogger who disagree in this case. Is this a disagreement over universalism or different conceptions of hell and salvation that send us out of the Reformed library and into a drawing room of another denomination? We probably don’t know enough to say anything for sure at this point.

However, here are a few thoughts on how to handle our disagreements with one another regardless of whether this pastor is a universalist.

Our Loyalty

Christians are loyal to a person and our beliefs (or doctrines) help us understand that person. The emphasis is essential here. We are loyal to a relational deity who wants us to love and obey him.

If we get the love and obey part, we’ll figure out that God wants us to relate to one another with the same charity, seeking out the best for others. We hold to our beliefs because they are important, but we don’t defend our beliefs as a matter of first importance.

The response of the blogger to the pastor here smells of prioritizing beliefs over the person. Was an accusatory blog post the best way to restore the pastor if he really was in error? I don’t know the blogger’s motives, but if he really thought a fellow brother was in error, the Bible tells us how to proceed. His actions match those of someone far more concerned with defending a doctrine than restoring an individual—that is, if that pastor needs to be restored from something.

Hint: A combative blog post that generates lots of traffic and comments wouldn’t leave me feeling, “Wow, that guy really wants me to be restored from my heresy! How nice of him. Look at all of the traffic his criticism of my beliefs generated. I guess I should agree with him.” Just saying.

The Significance

If we are loyal to our beliefs ahead of our relationship with God, we may view other Christian perspectives as threats. If we encounter a view that borders on heresy, we risk making things worse because we’re seeking to protect doctrines instead of people.

We aren’t here to defend the Gospel.

We’re here to let God change how we live and speak through the Gospel.

The Gospel is here to lead us to God and we need to live it with clarity and truth. However, if someone steps away from a faithful, biblical proclamation of the Gospel, we should be rushing to help the person, not to attack his/her beliefs.

The Goal: Restoration, not Isolation

When we disagree and fear that a fellow Christian may be teaching false doctrines, I think there are two possible ways forward. On the one hand, we should certainly engage the beliefs of that person and discuss them fairly with all of the information. I have no qualms with someone fairly critiquing my take on Jesus if I have made an error.

However, I would also hope that no one would attack me personally right off the bat, isolating me from the body of Christ. You see, we can isolate others, creating chasms where we say, “Our side has the truth, your side has the error. Come over to our side if you want to be a true Christian.”

A public attack like this only pushes us further away from one another. If someone really is in error, then attacking the person may only tempt him/her to dig in and fight back.

Isolation does not lead to restoration.

There may be times that we’ll have to isolate someone, but that is only a last resort, not an opening salvo. We begin with an appeal out of love for the other person, and only cut that person off if there is no other resort.

Defending a doctrine ahead of a person saves us from all of the trouble that love requires.

Does the Response Make Things Worse?

I’m actually more concerned about how we respond to this kerfuffle, than I am that we had a kerfuffle in the first place. I have a lot of reformed friends, and I know a lot of folks who are probably suspicious of this pastor.

Hey, his videos drive me nuts. I don’t agree with all that he teaches—that is, if I can get a handle on anything in his videos. I’m usually sitting there thinking to myself, “Common observation, touching story, emotional projection, probing question, suggestive answer. Common observation, touching story, emotional projection, probing question, probing question, suggestive answer.”

There clearly are more effective ways to be a heretic in my opinion, but I digress…

If this pastor really is a universalist, then I’d certainly think a minor kerfuffle is warranted—as in, someone should reach out to him personally out of love. However, I don’t want us to create divisions where they are unnecessary.

The first shots have been fired, but we don’t need to fire back. We also don’t need to wring our hands too much. There are lots of Christians who are rolling their eyes right now. The trick is to avoid attacking back. We’ll only make things worse.

The body of Christ can drown in its own self-righteousness just as well as it can in its squabbles. We can be combative in how we point out the combativeness of others.

What I Can’t Say

I almost tweeted something like this today: Fictional story: Christians charitable when disagreeing over what only God knows.

I couldn’t do it.

I knew it wasn’t true, and that made my day.

I know quite a few Christians who are very humble and kind, even when we disagree.

I have hundreds of Christian friends who are open-minded, who would hear someone out before reacting, and who would charitably work toward restoration of someone in error. Many of these friends dig Reformed theology.

Charitable Christians are not fictional. We are legion. We just don’t attract the same attention because we aren’t lightning rods for negativity and controversy that drive human interest stories on blogs and news sites. 

Rather than lament that a pastor asked some vague questions and a blogger made some harsh critiques before reading the whole story, let’s celebrate the fact that such an approach is not acceptable to many believers. There are folks who disagree with the pastor and/or the blogger, and these folks are praying for God’s best for them—praying that we are all restored to unity in Spirit and in truth.

The Call to Love All: What to Do When Someone Dares to Disagree with You

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I can still remember the moment when I realized that there are people who believe things that are quite different from my own views and who are not delusional idiots. It was kind of unsettling.

Our seventh grade teacher had divided our class into three camps in order to debate the 1996 presidential election. I think I was in the Bob Dole camp and my close friend was on the side of Ross Perot. He argued quite persuasively for Perot, while the girl I had a crush on argued in favor of Clinton and his pro-choice policies.

My head began to spin. How should I respond when someone dares to disagree with me? Didn’t they know that I was correct?

Know Where you Stand.

Yesterday I wrote about confronting our own insecurities and making sure we are standing on a firm foundation. For Christians this means that Jesus Christ himself is our one and only foundation. Everything we do and believe is built upon the person of Jesus.

We then begin to figure out what we believe in relation to him and evaluate its value based on whether it draws us closer or further from him—whether we are able to love God and one another better. I think it’s important to spend some time sorting through matters of Christian faith and practice in dialogue with fellow Christians and those who preceded us.

However, a sense of security about your beliefs does not necessarily need to lead to antagonism with others.

Seek to Understand

There is a false sense among some of us that certainty leads to combativeness and conflict. I can, in fact, be completely secure in my faith and beliefs about Jesus and still seek to understand other perspectives in redemptive conversations.

If we truly are secure in our beliefs, we actually have no reason to fight others. What do we personally stand to gain?

It is far more important to begin our interaction with other beliefs by seeking to understand them. How can we critique what we do not understand? I have seen this happen on both the right and the left, especially when we create broad characterizations of a group and stick those labels onto individuals who may well have more nuanced beliefs.

Conservative Christians are not necessarily judgmental or oppressive. Liberal Christians are not necessarily captive to relativism or anti-American. When we encounter beliefs different from our own, we need to move beyond caricatures created by those outside of complex groups.

Seek a Redemptive Outcome

We have nothing to gain by attacking someone with a different perspective and neither does that person. In fact, most of our fights and arguments are rooted in our pride. Most of the combative blog posts, tweets, and conversations that I witness on the right and left come from a desire to appear clever or smart.

Attacking or mocking another perspective is never a redemptive act. Attacks are usually acts of self-justification that bring no benefit to the body of Christ.

If we have taken the time to hear someone with another perspective, we have subjected ourselves to a conversation that may be unpleasant, but we have now gained two things. First of all, we can offer critique and counterpoints that will actually be relevant according to what that person actually believes. Secondly, we will earn the right to be heard since we listened first.

If we are secure in what we believe, we have not necessarily lost anything by listening to someone. And if we truly believe that person is somehow in danger based on his/her perspective, the most loving thing we can do is earn the right to be heard and to share our views in the most gentle manner possible.

Our goal in our conversations is the mutual building up of one another. We want healthier Christians who can seek God better. Seeking redemptive outcomes instead of publicly or personally blasting another perspective is not going soft. This is a choice between what is effective and what is not.

Attacks, whether public or private, do not work. They don’t build anyone up. They don’t illuminate anything. They just make us more prideful and angry, while further convincing those of an opposing viewpoint that they shouldn’t listen to us.

Redemptive conversations that seek the benefit of another person recognize the value of that person regardless of his/her perspective and put us in the best position to help someone take a positive step.

In addition, we just may find that someone with a different viewpoint has something to teach us. In fact, if we don’t believe that’s possible, then we have no business trying to engage in a conversation in the first place.