These are days of outrage. From everyone. About everything. What was once confined to the anonymous accounts on social media has bubbled over into the streets as people from all camps viciously attack one another. To say that there is rampant “disagreement” about all kinds of issues is an understatement.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything to be outraged about. There is, just like there always has been. And yet even in the midst of those things which warrant true anger, there is a unique call on Christians to disagree in a different kind of way. Here we find again the temptation to conform ourselves to the pattern of the world – to disagree in a fashion that’s just like everyone else. But Paul reminded us that we should “not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
We will find ourselves disagreeing about all different kinds of things, and we will find ourselves disagreeing with other Christians as well as non-Christians. But Romans 12 describes an all-encompassing renewal. We must think differently about the way we disagree. We must stand apart from the age – the age of outrage – and be different. So how do we do that? How do we express our views passionately, and yet do so in a way that stands apart from the world?
Let me suggest that there are a few key principles we should keep in mind when we stand in disagreement with someone else. Here are three of them:
1. There is always at least one piece of information you do not know.
One of the marks of the Christian, in any circumstance, ought to be a humble kind of confidence. We are supremely confident in God, His work, and His truth, and yet we have a very sober estimation of ourselves. So while God knows everything, whether visible or invisible, we certainly do not. That means we should assume, as we disagree with another, that there is always at least one piece of information we do not know.
Such an assumption will help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. It will help us to seek information and understanding in as much as we are seeking to express our viewpoint. Too often we walk into an argument assuming the opposite. We assume that we know everything there is to know about a given issue, and the fashion of our disagreement shows it.
2. Viewpoints are not formed in a vacuum.
Where does our passion come from? If we are Christians, hopefully the majority of our passion comes from the Bible – from reading God’s Word, from believing it is trustworthy and authoritative, and then standing on it. But we are kidding ourselves if we think our passion is not also formed by our past experiences. That’s because viewpoints are not formed in a vacuum.
We have a story. A past. Pain. Disappointment. All these things form who we are. And the person we are disagreeing with is no different. He or she also has a story. As we disagree with someone, it is helpful for us to remember that though they might not express it, there is a reason why that person feels so strongly about a particular issue. Now the level of passion does not make a viewpoint right or wrong. But recognizing that there is more – that this disagreement is the end of a lifetime of experiences – helps us to have our disagreement seasoned with compassion rather than dripping with condescension.
3. There is a gospel opportunity in every conversation.
One final principle for disagreement – we should assume that there is a gospel opportunity in every conversation. There is. Even when we are disagreeing with another Christian.
The gospel is a message that affects us holistically. It shapes the way we think, the way we feel, and of course the way we behave. We can apply the truth of the gospel in any situation, and we should. So the gospel opportunity might be that through a conversation with another we will eventually have the chance to share the gospel with them if indeed we are able to disagree with them in a way that firmly expresses our view but at the same time does so with understanding and compassion.
But the gospel opportunity might just as well be the chance to remind a fellow Christian that even when we differ on a particular issue there is more that unites us in the family of God than divides. It’s possible – and even God-glorifying – when Christians can disagree and still maintain a degree of kindness and civility. That’s the gospel opportunity in those kind of disagreements.
Yes, friends, these are days of outrage and disagreement about all kinds of things and all kinds of issues. But here is an opportunity not for us, as Christians, to compete to see who can shout the loudest. But instead to disagree in such a way that shows the unique nature of the citizenship we have in the kingdom of heaven.