By Dr. Jeff Hagan
1 Peter 3:8-12, “Finally, all of you, having unity of mind, sympathy, brother love, a tender heart, and a humble mind…bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For, ‘Whosoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer…’”(ESV).
What I’m about to discuss will come as no surprise to most, if not all, of you. Nonetheless, it’s something that needs addressing (again). There is an increasing group of the American population who have resorted to a type of mob mentality as their normal modus operandi. It has switched from an occasional tactic to their normal way of doing things. This group identifies all of those who disagree with them, often times even if it’s on just a single issue, as bigots, racists, homophobics, misogynists, or a host of other similar and ugly labels. It’s alive and well in Christian circles too. Even if one preaches or writes on essential doctrine, if others disagree they label the preacher, teacher, author, or piece as heresy, demonic, or many such other inaccurate and hurtful labels. Doing this is really nothing new, it’s just that it’s getting worse. What they are attempting to do is intimidate by fear, it’s nothing more than a fear tactic. You see, if you accuse those who disagree with you of these unacceptable, despicable, and at times “dehumanizing” practices, there is a hope instilled that one day they will see the err of their ways and through the fear of societal rejection will “repent” (so to speak) of their wrong doing and join the rest of those who hold “correct” views.
Unfortunately, racism, hate, etc., are alive and well in the world (one can’t get around or ignore these issues in our day and age), but when these nasty labels are tossed about so casually and used so frequently, they are reduced to nothing more than stale and boring cliche’s. Sadly, they lose their impact and the punch that formerly came with such a description is dissipated and the force that use to accompany them is removed. So, attempting to fear monger another out of their view has only resulted in making it more difficult to fight the real thing when it rears its ugly head. Another result, an ironic one at that, is that those who apply this tactic of labeling others who disagree even over minor issues with such nasty inaccurate titles and descriptions, is equally as bad. Why? Because they are doing the exact same thing they are accusing others of doing.
Don’t stoop to their level. Don’t use such methods when arguing and debating different issues and/or topics. I’m sure we have all been guilty of it to some level or degree, but it’s very unattractive, it’s inappropriate, impolite, ineffective, and quite possibly one of the more significant causes for the seemingly irreconcilable schisms we have in our current society. Power, or actually it’s more accurate to say “self perceived” power, is not so important that one has to stoop to such low and un-Christlike practices. Just be obedient to God and His Word and let the rest happen as it will. Let Ephesians 4:32 be a reminder to us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (ESV).
If the urge that pulls you to take part in such discussions, especially when they are online, is too strong for you to avoid or resist, then as brothers and sisters in Christ I implore you to contemplate the following pieces of advice (and I include myself in remembering these things as well):
- Stop the knee jerk responses. Don’t be so eager to argue or respond that you reply in haste. Take a moment to pause and think before you speak, or type.
- Get right to the point. Be clear and direct. There’s no need for self aggrandizing. Stay on topic. Be clear and concise.
- Practice active “listening.” Let people know you understand their point or concern. Show respect in how you articulate their position back to them.
- This flows from number three, but be respectful. Respect their opinion without compromising your own. Even go so far as to point out valid points or ideas that they may bring up.
- Keep anger at bay. Angry, bitter words accomplish nothing. Even sarcasm (an admitted fault of my own) is rarely of benefit.
- Practice sympathy and empathy. Don’t revel or rejoice in the misfortune of another.
- If someone needs to be admonished, do so gently and with respect. Guess what? There are many times in your life that you need to be admonished as well, whether you wish to accept that truth or not.
- Steer clear of attacks on motive, personal character, personal attributes, etc. Don’t distract from the discussion by relishing in arguing for the sake of arguing, resorting to ad hominem attacks, using divisive or harsh language, etc.
- Don’t use “news” as a source if you don’t know it to be true. Forwarding stories, memes, reports, speculations, etc., before facts have been confirmed amounts to nothing more than gossip and hearsay. Fact check. Research. This is especially important with the speed at which social media now travels. Withhold stating things as fact until you have information, reliable information, available from both sides of an issue.
- I see this one all of the time and it serves literally no purpose. Don’t simply make unsubstantiated assertions with no explanation. Examples: “false,” “wrong,” “incorrect,” “think again,” etc. If you feel the need to identify something as false, then explain why. The purpose should be a dialog, correct? One word, simplistic denials of one’s comment or position is not helpful.
I hope this has been beneficial and informative. If not, at least a good reminder of basic manners and etiquette for conversation, discussion, disagreement, and even debate. And please know I’m not talking “to” you with this information as though I’m without fault. I am as much talking to, or at least reminding, myself of these things as well. I will be the first to admit I have pushed “send” or “enter” many times when I shouldn’t have. It’s easy to get wrapped up in conversation, especially if it’s a “hot button” topic for you. It’s easy to get a bit nonchalant when one is in front of an electronic screen, forgetting there are actual people on the other end of an entry, comment, reply, or post.*
Luke 6:31, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
*Article inspired by, and adapted from, “Demonizing Our Opponents” by John Hendryx.