The election season is not the best for human relations on social media. As people think through the issues, sometimes they voice opinions like ultimate declarations. Those who agree rally to "like" the comment. Those who don’t, ignore, un-friend or troll the post. That's when I’ve noticed those who are not so open to discussion have inflicted their deadliest verbal wounds. It's a world we help to create one post at a time that makes us feel uneasy, as we continue our way.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop after the elections. Worse yet, France is about to enter into its election season. I'm bracing myself for what doesn't look much different than what we saw in the US. This style of communicating feels like looking in the rear-view mirror to see an accident, as we speed down the freeway. What are the effects of this in our relational world? Are we communicating like we are tweeting? Are we losing the ability to exchange ideas and disagree agreeably? As a pastor I'm concerned about a popular culture where we can't sit down and talk with those who don't share our point of view.
I've had some enriching conversations with people I don't agree with.
There is one brother in particular that comes to mind with whom I discussed the finer points of eschatology. I see things from a pre-millennial rapture perspective, while my friend is an a-millennialist. We’ve talked about this over the years, exchanged books, emails, teachings and never came to any close agreement. If I'm honest, our conversation has only strengthened my position and my respect for him. It was often friendship that stopped me from saying cutting remarks, and the Spirit that pushed me to ask forgiveness when I went too far. Years later we still don't agree, but I pray for him. He knows he's welcome to stay at our house anytime he comes, and so do I whenever I’m in town.
If only this weren’t the exception to the rule! There are far more examples of the opposite experience, where there is no commitment to love even if we disagree. Sometimes we can say things in an insulting way though the words themselves may contain truth. If we don't speak the truth in love, are we really speaking the truth? Because the truth came to us in perfect love, truth told about our sinful condition, and presented it with a message of perfect love, leading to our salvation.
Yet I find that the bitterest conflicts aren't always about what matters.
I've seen this as a reaction to authority that refuses accountability. There was a pastor who confronted a man in his church over the manipulating way he treated another brother. Apparently his tone was a little too abrupt. In spite of his efforts to try and talk, the man left the church, never speaking or writing to him again. What made the wound deeper for my friend is that the person in question used to call himself a friend. If this were an isolated event, I should stop here, but I'm not alone in saying I've experienced the same thing several times.
Can we admit to being wrong? In the ministry it's what we are called to more often than we like. It makes it easy to develop a defense mechanism that will not let anyone see our weakness. If we opt for that kind of protection around our heart, how can we hear well enough to discuss with someone else?
We want them to be transparent, to even question their motivations, but is it fair if we don't do the same? Are we really communicating if we don't?
One of the greatest tools in discussion is listening. The words we use are only a part of the message we send. This is one of the hazards of manifesto Facebooking. Body language and vocal tone reveal much context to the words, as do a personal relationship and history with the person. I'm reminded of responding to an offensive post, only to be surprised by the reply which was much more thought-out than I imagined. Love calls us to listen, even when we are upset. Listening valorizes the person and reduces our chances of ignoring something deeper that may be lying underneath. It may be the open door we were looking for to bring reconciliation and share the Gospel.
Another help is empathy for the person we are disagreeing with. Some great advice I received was, before you refute someone else's position; make sure you can explain it in words they would agree with. We want people to see our point of view, but do we try to see their's? It's what helps us determine motive and give grace for what we may have done ourselves. In France there is a popular movie character called Brice who lives his life saying things no one should to other people. What makes him funny is no one would ever act like he does, what makes people angry is when individuals allow themselves to anyway.
Lastly is a prayerful openness to the possibility that I might be wrong. I'm not talking about second-guessing ourselves. But what if? What if, maybe we didn't really understand? What if their reaction was a mirror of our reaction, what if... One of my good friends and mentors, Pastor Pierre Petrignani from Calvary Chapel Nice, modeled this for me during the years I worked with him. I've seen him follow after people he realized he unintentional offended, and I’ve also seen him stand his ground with respectful dignity. No one likes to be wrong. Personally, I find that realizing I’m wrong in the middle of a fight is like having my arm hair ripped off by duct tape. It’s painful and painfully embarrassing. But what am I going to do?
Let’s talk. It doesn’t have to be an open debate that everyone can hear. But let’s talk if we can and communicate towards living peacefully.