The atmosphere of our culture feels toxic. Disagreement, division, resentment, anger, all seem to be on the increase. This afternoon as I pulled up in a car park it became clear to me how much of an influence that has had on me as I had a visceral internal response to a sign supporting a particular viewpoint and party. In a snap judgement, made in a flash of anger and frustration, I condemned the person and their position.
We live in a culture that cannot disagree. Someone cannot hold a different position and be loved. It’s played out on the stage of politics. We get the leaders we deserve, I once heard someone say. Our leaders both lead our culture but they are also reflective of our culture.
That’s true of us as believers as much as it is of us as a society. How good is your church at disagreeing with others? Good, not in terms of being every ready to go to war and fight for your position but good in terms of being charitable both in your description of the position they hold but also in the motives behind holding that position.
Too often we attack straw men (should that be people). Instead, godly disagreement begins by trying to understand why someone else believes what they believe so well that we can articulate their position better than they can. They should hear us and be able to say “Yes, yes. That’s it you get me. That’s what I believe and you’ve said it better than I have ever been able to.” That applies whether the issue is mode of baptism, gifts of the spirit and their practice or which version of the bible you use.
In order to do that we need to listen well. And that means not listening to defend ourselves. In fact not even listening to respond, marshalling arguments to repudiate their point of view whilst we listen, but just listening to understand. We ought to ask questions, not to score points, but to gain understanding. Until we can articulate their point of view and motives well enough we will only talk passed them not discuss with them. In fact I’d suggest until we can understand it that well we ought to just shut up.
Just stop for a minute and imagine the difference that would make. Instead of hearing someone condemning us as they call for more people to help with mission and church in hard places. We’d hear a heart felt impassioned plea for the lost who cannot hear because there is no one to tell them. Instead of hearing it as a call to a class war, we would hear it as an outworking of the gospels wall dissolving power to unite the divided and bring hope to all. And their passionate belief that the gospel is the only thing that can do that!
There is hope for our divided nation, increasingly walled off from one another by miscommunication hatred and a refusal to understand in the gospel. But this will only be seen when rather than being like our culture; aping it’s toxicity, joining in with its smug assumptions of superiority, we humbly confess that we haven’t listened well enough and repent of such and look to build churches that cross the very divides across which our cultures wars are being fought and grenades lobbed.