“Why don’t you get more angry with people?” one of my new colleague’s asked me recently? “You get hammered by people on your blog and you never seem to tell them off.” There are a number of things wrong with this observation. First, I do get irritated, but it seldom benefits anyone to get in a fight about a disagreement. Second, I don’t feel hammered — I have one or two worthy adversaries and one or two people with an axe to grind, but that’s what the blog is for. Third, I do tell people off, but I try to do it reasonably, with information and even-handedness. I try very hard not to take things personally, or to make things personal with someone else. Fourth, I would hate it if everyone thought exactly like me. We need a rich diversity of thoughts, beliefs, approaches and solutions. At least when people disagree with me it means they are attempting to engage and they care enough to participate — no matter how politely or otherwise. And here’s a little secret. I believe that everybody’s right.
Not that everybody is 100% right, but that everyone is right to some degree. Stay with me — there is a logic here. Who in their right mind would ever defend an idea or opinion that they knew to be false? People who disagree with me have every right to their opinion — even when that opinion is wrong (joke). Take any volatile subject. People try to boil everything down to good/bad, right/wrong, holy/evil, etc. Polarization is the sanctuary of the unimaginative. Either/or thinking is the default position of the ignorant. There are rarely just two sides to any issue. Take abortion for example. We want to make it a simple “right or wrong” issue. People have strong feelings about it — but they do not all rest at one extreme end of the argument or the other. Is it murder or not? When does life actually begin? Where does sentience lie? Who has the right to decide to terminate another life, a pregnancy, a potential life? What about extenuating circumstances of rape, incest, abject poverty, etc? For you or me, none of these questions might matter. But to others, they matter deeply and these very conditions settle the issue one way or the other for them. Our positions are based on core values, personal beliefs, mass opinions, information, misinformation, emotions, personal experience, cultural mores, education, economic status, gender, and on and on. Interestingly, when the issue comes up, we try to reduce everything to information, as a weapon to “win” the debate. But isn’t it much more than a debate? Isn’t abortion much more than an “issue?” We reduce the big subjects of life and human existence to “topics” when we feel incapable of resolving them. But some things are unresolvable — and as human beings we face them in a wide variety of ways.
So, everyone is right to a greater or lesser extent. A person may be wrong 99% and right 1%, but there has to be that one percent or the person wouldn’t defend the position — and I try (I repeat, try) to honor that 1%. If I don’t honor that 1% then I slam the door on having any potential influence on the person I disagree with. Our dialogue ends. Our exchange of ideas is terminated. Where is the good in that? There are biblical instructions to view others as more important than myself, to turn the other cheek, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. These are not meant to be empty platitudes, but lived standards of behavior.
Does this mean I accept what everyone else believes? No way. I worked in prison ministry for almost twenty years. I met over 1,000 prisoners in that time, and at least 999 deserved to be right where they were. In all the years I worked with inmates, I heard 1,001 justifications for why they had to do what they had done. Some of the stories were heartbreaking and tragic. One mother smothered her two little children so she wouldn’t have to watch them suffer and starve. One man killed another man for enough money to buy insulin for his wife. A young man drove a car for his friends who robbed a gas station because he was trying to fit in and escape a brutal home life. Everyone had a reason, no one felt they were 100% wrong, but each had to pay the consequences of their actions. One man I met was a lifelong KKK member and a hateful, racist, sexist bigot. He spewed vile insults against any and all minorities. I never found one redeemable quality in the man, but the only way I could visit with him and pray with and for him was to search for that 1% — this was a man raised by a drunken, abusive father after his mother died when he was three. He was imprisoned and tortured during the second World War. His sister had been raped by a black man while he was away at war. Nothing excuses the man and his abominable conduct and beliefs, but much explains it. I didn’t shed a tear when he died, but he gave me hope that if I could find grace for him I could find it for almost anyone.
Our world doesn’t need more fighting. It doesn’t benefit from more judgement and hostility. Friendly debate, honest disagreement, and even heated discussion are fine, but open attack? Forget about it. There is a subtle elegance to being part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem. Anyone can disagree with me at any time with my blessing. It doesn’t make them right and me wrong, nor does it make me right and them wrong. Truth is no single brick in the wall, but the mortar that holds all bricks in place and makes the wall strong. We need each other — even in our disagreement. This is the challenge in being human and the test of being Christian — to become one body composed of many parts, so that together we might be an honor and a glory to our Creator and God. Who belongs in this body? Everybody, right?
I saw an earlier post about an obligation to defend the Christian gospel. Dan, if within easy reach, would you please advise where I may read about defending and the obligation for a minister to do so? The earlier comments have something to do with this question. The other part is from an open AA meeting I attended in Brownsville last night in support of a friend in recovery. It was my 1st occasion to be at such a meeting. Two young men were there because it was dictated by terms of their probation. They are meth users. When I have the opportunity before another open meeting, I will ask if attending church is a substitute for an AA meeting for purposes of meeting the requirements of probation. Although I have not established it in this note, there is a connection between the earlier comments on this thread and what I experienced last night. Peace, larry in Matamoros
This is very interesting.
Some time back I visited the largest UMM group in Louisiana. It is organized inside of Angola prison, a maximum security facility where 95% of the inmates are lifers without any hope of parole.
I visited on a Wednesday evening and also attended the mid-week Worship and Bible study session and had the opportunity to talk with many of the men who were there attending the service. Each time I spoke with one of the men, without exception, he would direct the conversation to the subject of grace. Nowhere else have I sensed such great understanding, and appreciation, of God’s grace and mercy than inside this maximum security prison. Most of these men spend a majority of their ‘free’ time in the common yards and barracks, witnessing to and evangelizing other men. I would guess there are some unsaved men in that mission field who have far less than 1% of ‘rightness’ in them.
I honestly was not prepared for the gentle and quite outpouring of love for God by these murderers, thieves and rapists. As a result of that visit, to my surprise, I immediately turned 180 degrees on my long-held position related to capital punishment. God revealed to me the ugly truth about my own righteousness; it is just as filthy as that of the man who is locked behind prison bars for life.
Make no mistake, there is a price to pay for sin. Obviously, Jesus paid the ultimate price for all of us. Unfortunately, that does not miracously remove the trail of carnage these men caused when they committed those incredibly evil things that landed them in prison in the first place. The carnage includes the murdered or ruined lives of the victims. The ruined lives of the victim’s mother, father, brother, sister, and on and on. The results of such heinous crimes are irreversible and a price to our society must be paid and should be paid.
But the fact remains that we will fellowship for eternity with those murderers, thieves and rapists who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Thankfully, God is no respecter of persons and his terms of salvation are given to everyone without exception. He freely gives, we freely receive.
I do agree with Pastor Don about presenting the uncompromising truth of the Gospel. So often we try to find some kind of common ground. But it really is not a matter of how much ‘rightness’ someone has inside of them. If the truth be known, most of us do not have a great deal of ‘rightness’ in us. We take comfort in knowing that our rightness (righteousness) is in Jesus Christ and Him alone. It is legally apportioned to us as soon as we make Him our Lord and Saviour.
We can tell a murderer without hesitation that it is wrong to kill. We can tell a thief that it is wrong to steal. We can say to the homosexual that what he or she is doing is an abomination to God. We can tell the abortionist that he or she is engaging in murder. We can also say to that person that God is a God of forgiveness and is full of grace and mercy. After all, we need only look in the mirror to see the almost unbelievable truth of that statement.
Finally, we should not be afraid of speaking the truth in love. Most of these issues are not grey areas. We deceive ourselves by thinking or saying they are. You cannot ‘cherry pick’ what you want to believe (and what you want not to believe) from God’s word. Neither can you filter God’s word through the lens of contemporary cultural attitudes as the likes of the Adam Hamilton’s in this world try to do. Simply because there are parts of the Bible that we do not agree with, or understand completely, does not justify removing them from our doctrinal foundation.
If we start diluting God’s word, then without fail we start sliding down the proverbial slippery slope of unbelief. Soon we lose our ability to be an effective emissary in a world full of darkness. We lose our saltiness. We become convinced that our mission in life is to help others feel good about themselves rather than presenting to them the truth that they are sinners in need of a Saviour.
We cannot play like this is some kind of game. It literally is a matter of life and death. Hell is as real as heaven. I do not want to toy with someone’s life by trying to raise their self-esteem. I want to be fruitful for His kingdom by planting, watering and harvesting.
This is another example of what is wrong with our church today. If you are a minister of the Christian gospel, you have an obligation to defend it. Our faith is founded on the idea that there is right and there is wrong. We are trained and ordained to teach and preach the Christian faith. We do not water it down. We do not turn our heads away from sin and ignore it. We do not pretend that other faiths are equal to ours. We do go to sinners, but not to tell them that their sins are fine with us. There is nothing to be gained by wasting our time talking to people who will attempt to convince us that their faith is superior to ours. Love of neighbor is not this liberal crap that says we can’t make anyone unhappy or uncomfortable or disagree with them or act like their beliefs are as good as ours. Reverend Casey makes the point very well: Christianity is true. Either teach that or shut up.
I hope we can meet one day and talk face to face. There is always something of merit in what you say, and I agree with you on some things, but disagree passionately on others! Yes, I believe Christianity is true with every fiber of my being. I wish every person on earth could know the joy and power I find in the Christian gospel. But I cannot condone judging and condemning anyone, simply because they disagree with me. I am not saying we accept everything equally. I am saying, that for me, I am able to navigate the broad diversity of worldviews in this world by allowing that everyone has a right to their opinion no matter how different from my own that might be. Including you, Don.
You actually don’t get it, do you? You think you are speaking reasonably and rationally, and that you know what you are talking about. You try to sound like the reasonable one, but your logic is so bad that you cannot even conceive that your opinion is destructive and unChristian. We are Christians. Jesus died for the sins of the world. We are the ordained agents of the gospel. Jesus Christ is THE way, THE truth, THE life. When you say that everyone is right you actually say that Jesus is wrong. You should not pretend to be a minister of the gospel when you refuse to defend it, and when you so easily and freely criticize the church that does defend it.
Keep up the good work. Great food for thought, great observations, etc.,
I haven’t commented much, but know that I always read you. We are fortunate to have you in the Wisc. Annual Conference
This is a horrendous outlook. Everyone is not right, and that is the main reason we are Christian. Do you not believe that Christianity it true? Do you really think murderers and robbers are right even 1%? Don’t you believe in right and wrong? There is truth, and Christians must defend that truth completely. To allow people who are evil, hateful, hurtful, and corrupt to believe they are right in any conceivable way is unconscienable. This is a dangerous heresy you are promoting. This isn’t being open or accepting, this is being dumb.
Could you come lead our Annual Conference? This is just such a simple, loving, respectful approach. Your mother raised you right!
Thank you . . .