Everywhere I went, there they were, multiplying like rabbits.
‘They’ were ‘We Support Our Police’ lawn signs. After another highly-publicized round of controversy and tension between white police officers and black citizens, they began appearing everywhere.
Until, one day, I noticed one on my lawn. Huh?
Turns out one of my kids had ordered it from our township, who made them available after a police wives group had donated them.
I was happy that my daughter had taken initiative, and equally happy to show support for our local police who really do ‘put their lives on the line everyday for us’, as the sign says.
A few days later, though, a question hit me. ‘How would my black friends feel if they drove through my community?’ It’s not like they don’t support the police, but for obvious reasons their trust with law enforcement is often lower than mine.
There are (at least) two sides to the story, but our lawn only told one.
Deeper questions started flooding my mind from there. Do I have any responsibility to tell both sides of the story? How would I do that anyway? And, how do I think about all this as a Christian anyway?
Maybe you’ve had similar thoughts. If not on this issue, then certainly on others.
The Issues Behind The Issues
The questions above are (really) important ones.
But important as they are, how we deal with them is even more important. We’re at a moment where, as a nation, we’re struggling to have thoughtful, honest, and respectful conversations on many topics, like:
- our current political climate
- physician-assisted suicide
- national healthcare
- issues of sexuality
Just try posting about any of this on Facebook, or discussing it in ‘real life’, and watch the dumpster fire begin.
I’m not okay with that. Are you? It’s healthy to have different viewpoints, but it’s disappointing and toxic when we can’t discuss them freely.
Salt & Light
Christians are called to be part of the solution. To be part of shaping our culture in a more thoughtful, respectful direction.
Jesus made that clear when he said,
You are the salt of the earth… the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13, 14-16)
The images of salt, light and a city on a hill make it plain that Christians are supposed to impact the world in a positive way. One that involves ‘good works’ that benefit everyone, and ultimately show that our God is great. (Anyone else feeling convicted?)
That’s why this post isn’t really about racial tensions, politics or other hot button topics.
Instead, this post is about how we, as Christians, can engage anyone, on any controversial issue, in a way that promotes healthy dialogue. And values the relationship with another person over being right.
4 Ways We Can Move Beyond Controversy Toward Honest, Respectful Conversation
Here are four thoughts, in no particular order.
Humility required. Our sin was bad enough that Jesus had to leave heaven and take our place on the cross. That should produce a humility where we ‘count others more significant than yourselves’ (Philippians 2:3). This means listening and really considering what someone else is saying. Not just waiting for them to take a breath so we can insert our own opinion.
Examine our anger, devastation & anxiety. When we feel – and think – strongly about something, it reveals its importance to us. And that’s entirely appropriate.
Sometimes, though, our reactions invite deeper self-examination. Why do we become unglued, for example, because [insert politician of choice] didn’t win the election? Deep disappointment, concern, fervent prayer, and appropriate activism all make sense. But if our hope is ultimately in Christ, nasty online comments and prolonged despair don’t. When our reactions don’t align with our identity in Christ, God graciously invites us to look for idolatry and offer that up to him (see 1 John 5:21).
Think. Christ calls us to love the Lord with all our minds (Matthew 22:37). When we really examine something, though, we often find that Jesus isn’t fully on our team. Or anyone’s team.
Every person, and every culture, is a mixed bag. When we dump the bag out, we see the good that comes from being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and the bad that reflects our sinful natures (Jeremiah 17:9).
Practically-speaking, we should expect Jesus to affirm some of what we – and others – believe about a given issue. But ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ (Ephesians 4:13), we should expect to find some serious errors and blind spots, too.
Selectively engage. It’s possible to commit two, very different, errors. On the one hand, we can make every issue a hill to die on, burn out, and look down on those who don’t make our pet issue their pet issue. On the other, we can get overwhelmed, cynical and do nothing.
God offers better choices. When Christianity was young, Gentiles (non-Jews) began flooding into the largely Jewish church, and sparks began to fly. Many Jewish believers were insisting that their Gentile counterparts must observe the law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1). Gentiles, with no Old Testament background, thought that was crazy and incredibly burdensome. It didn’t seem like there was any middle ground, and the fledgling church seemed like it would crash before it even left the runway.
But in a genius move, the apostles listened carefully, considered what God had done, and made a wise decision. They decided to focus on just four key commands from the Mosaic law, and require nothing more from the new Gentile converts (19-21). After all, they too were saved by grace (11).
Instead of a battle royale, the church was freed from needless controversy and spread like wildfire. We need more wise, selective engagement like that today.
Hope For Moving Forward
I know it’s way more complex than that, and highly-dependent on the context. But when we follow the principles outlined in God’s word, we just might experience similar results.
Not long after the police sign appeared on our front lawn, I added a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign next to it. I want our house to tell both sides of the story. It’s not a game-changer, but I hope it’s a small way of acknowledging the tension and saying, ‘hey, let’s talk about it’. (Thankfully, a few people have wanted to talk about it.)
One small action, one small conversation at a time, let’s do all we can to form relationships where trust is built even when agreement isn’t.
Questions for reflection:
- What issues tend to get under your skin? To what extent do you handle them according to the principles outlined above?
- What one step could you take to move in a more God-honoring direction?
- What did I miss?