One key to our future is the way we choose to deal with one another, and I emphasize the word choose. Often, we prefer to ignore the fact that we choose to react or respond to others as we do. I’ll use myself as an example. The fact is, no one can make me angry; I must choose to respond in anger. No one truly has the power to insult me, but I have unlimited capacity to choose to be insulted. No one has the ability to offend me whom I have not given the power to do so. I am not prisoner to my emotions or responses. I have been saved from such base behavior by a faith that offers me a better way and the power of the Holy Spirit working within me to make me Christlike. I reject the victim mentality that blames everyone else for making me feel bad. To be a victim is to be a loser, and I refuse to make the loser’s choice.
This is the same place we find ourselves as a church. So much of our current discourse and engagement is grounded in outrage, indignation, resentment, insult and derision — not a healthy place for unity, harmony, reconciliation and concord. But the greatest danger we face is that we are refusing to take responsibility for the toxic and destructive behavior. Instead, we blame others, claiming that “they” are the problem. Well, “they” may not be behaving as we would have them, but “they” can’t wage war by themselves. “They” are only effective to the extent that “we” are dysfunctional. It has long been noted that those who are most confident in their beliefs are least likely to lash out or resort to emotional or physical violence to make their points. Acting out is a form of immaturity. All the name-calling, back-stabbing, gossip-based hate-mongering and posturing is not evidence of the strength of our convictions, but the weakness of our confidence. When anger is the presenting symptom, the usual root cause is doubt, uncertainty or fear (NOT faith).
I have been told by some (and am sure I will hear from many more) that this is preposterous. Righteous indignation is a justifiable response to wrong-headed, sin-saturated immorality posing as open-mindedness. Calling people names is acceptable when the names fit. We can’t idly sit back and let the b******s win. Wrong. Plain and simple. Faith is not a competition to win. The task of working out our individual and collective salvation with fear and trembling is not a no-holds-barred scrimmage. Certainly, our Neanderthal forebears lived by the seat of their limbic pants, but we have evolved — unless of course you disbelieve in Neanderthals, evolution and the limbic-system. But even if we disagree about psychology, biology, astronomy and geography as they relate to the Bible, what possible good is there in allowing our disagreement become a fight? To what positive end will we arrive if we allow our discourse to be peppered with invective, insult and disrespect? How can this possibly help us?
Disagreement is one of the best places for us to witness to the grace, love and peace of God that comes through relationship with Jesus Christ. To treat one another with civility and respect is truly counter-cultural. To maintain patience and calm in the face of conflict is a powerful testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I have a hard time believing someone has the love of God in his or her heart when hateful and hurtful words flow so easily from their mouths. Attacking those who disagree with us is not a sign of our conviction, but purely evidence of our spiritual retardation. Spiritual maturity results in a grace-filled and loving response — no question.
Certainly, there are those who are wrong — those who have missed the point and are moving in the wrong direction. Undoubtedly, there are those who, through ignorance or malice, wish to condemn and attack their opponents. So what? For those who feel the strength of their convictions, there is no problem. No one who feels confident of their beliefs has any reason to turn to aggression in any of their responses. Wisdom is vindicated by all her children. When the offspring are evil and aggressive, the mom is not pure and without flaw.
So, what choice is available to us? Perhaps we could be loving. Maybe a bit kind and compassionate. Patient? Gentle? Generous? A source of peace or self-control? Well, these are fruits of the Spirit. Only those who think the Bible is a good guide for our behavior will find any kind of guidance here. The rest? Probably they will continue with the loser’s choice. Glad we don’t have to choose what they do.