One reoccurring element in most debates with Christians is the “I’m sorry you don’t like it, but someone has to tell you the TRUTH” argument. It’s a conversation killer — not because the one who uses it has won any ground, but because it’s just so obnoxious.
Whether you’re going toe-to-toe about abortion, gay marriage, politics, atheism, or any of the other issues I find Christians arguing online about, at the point you pull out the TRUTH card, you’re losing.
No one cares that you think You’re right
First off, let’s just get this out of the way: I am not a relativist. I believe that there is an ultimate reality behind the nature of the universe, the origin of the world, and the destiny of mankind. It’s my conviction that the essence of this reality is found in Jesus Christ.
My faith in the Jesus of the gospels is so strong that I’m placing all of my eggs in that basket. I’m not hedging my bets. I no longer have a Buddhist altar in my bedroom, I’m not praying to any other gods, or following any other customs just in case I’m wrong.
That said, I don’t feel like I’m more certain than my atheist, Muslim, or Jewish friends. Every humanist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Seventh-Day Adventist, Baptist, or Calvinist I talk to is certain that their worldview represents the TRUTH, too.
In our pluralistic culture, Christians are entirely too comfortable dismissing (sometimes with extreme condescension) someone else’s point-of-view while expecting special attention be paid to them when they quote their scriptures or pet doctrines. We’re so sure that Christianity is completely self-evident and obvious that anyone who doesn’t agree with us is a moron or intentionally ignoring what we know to be undeniable.
Someone needs to speak the TRUTH
Nearly every time I encourage Christians to think through how they communicate with people who don’t share their opinions, I’m met with the same response, “Someone needs to tell people the TRUTH!”
Okay . . . whose truth?
One troubling aspect of evangelicalism is that there’s not really a collective TRUTH we’re supposed to be telling everyone. Even when it comes to something as basic as Christ’s work on the cross, we hit the culture with confusing and varying theories. Did Jesus satisfy God’s wrath with a penal substitution? Did God pay off Satan with a deceitful bribe? Did Jesus voluntarily offer himself up to be sacrificed to defeat evil and release humanity from the clutches of sin? Each of these ideas represent distinctly different views on what happened on the cross, and they’re often held with unwavering rigidity as the TRUTH.
I use the example of atonement theories to demonstrate that, even on the most primary aspects of “mere Christianity,” it’s easy for us to confuse people with details that are often speculation — but we see as plain fact. How much more bewildering does it get for the culture when we wander into even more speculative areas and begin lecturing everyone on modern moral issues?
Our various denominational teachings, interpretations, and philosophical leanings dramatically affect the way we think through issues, but when we talk about it, we tell the nation that we’re speaking on behalf of the almighty God as revealed in the Bible — when the truth is that we’re speaking for ourselves or our tribe. And the mixed messages do more to obfuscate the gospel than illuminate it.
Maybe that’s why Paul went out of his way with the Corinthians to know nothing but Jesus and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
The daily bludgeoning
Not only do we give mixed messages about what and how to please God, we’re constantly on the offensive. We don’t see it, but think about it from the perspective of the average non-Christian Facebook user.
Let’s say that I’m the average American Facebook user with 350 “friends.” Roughly 83% of Americans identify as Christians, so that’s about 290 of my “friends.” Of those 290 Christian “friends,” let’s assume that only 30% are really vocal about their faith. So out of my 350 “friends,” 87 are going to be sharing updates about their Christian beliefs.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that you’re one of those vocal, Christian friends. Now, the issue that you’re really passionate about is abortion. You don’t post about abortion every day, but you do occasionally. Let’s assume it’s once or twice a month. But you’re also a fan of quite a few Facebook pages on the topic of abortion. Periodically you’ll like a strongly worded meme or an article you’ve read, and that shows up in my feed. On top of that, every update that you comment on shows up on my page.
One of my other vocal Christian Facebook friends is really passionate about the issue of gay marriage. It’s a travesty that really frustrates him and he posts about it quite often. So my feed is often filled with his updates, memes, and discussions on the topic.
And on and on it goes. . . you might not post about your hot-button topic too much, but it’s part of the daily religious deluge in my news feed. I’m constantly wading through some Christian’s views on gays, feminism, poverty, race, etc. Every one of the Christians in my feed belief that they’re doing God’s work by telling me the TRUTH about their pet issue. But here’s the thing, it’s actually inoculating me against the gospel instead of drawing me in.
Even if they’re right much of the time, I’m tuning them out. And it’s not just because I’m a sinner who’s in love with my sin; it’s because I’m constantly surrounded by Christians bickering with others on the inside, and outside, of their faith.
Ultimately it’s not that I’m surprised that Christians disagree about so much, it’s that I can’t believe they disagree with so little charity.
I often find myself in a discussion with someone who is super upset about something I’ve written. It doesn’t upset me when people disagree with me — I kind of expect it. What I’m frequently taken aback by, however, is the disdainful and patronizing way that they’ll speak to me. When I find them talking to me like that, I’ll often say,
“I’m super curious why there’s so much disdain and condescension in your remarks? It’s totally fine if you disagree, but I am always so intrigued by individuals whose orthodoxy is expressed in such a smug and dismissive fashion.”
When I do get a response, it’s typically that what I am saying is obviously so wrongheaded that it doesn’t deserve to be treated with respect or deference. I guess when you have the TRUTH on your side, it releases you from any responsibility for kindness.
What I find increasingly strange is how the same person who’s contemptuous towards me when we disagree will often claim they’re being denied their freedom of speech or are being persecuted when someone dismisses or disregards their argument.
Debate’s golden rule
One of Jesus’ most well-known statements was his admonition to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Lk 6:31), and I think it’s incredibly applicable here. We tend to think of it as, “Don’t do something you don’t like to someone else,” but it’s a lot more proactive than that.
- You want someone to listen to your truth? Honestly listen to theirs.
- You want someone to treat your opinions with respect? Treat theirs with respect.
- You want someone to genuinely care about your perspective? Genuinely care about theirs.
- Don’t want people to turn every conversation into an opportunity to share their opinion or convert you? Don’t do it to them.
I fear that we’ve gotten to the point where we think the Jesus’ great commission (Mt. 28:19–20) is fulfilled by sharing our presumptions about everything. It isn’t. You want someone to care about your views? Build enough relational capital that when you do share your beliefs, you’ve earned their ear.
Image courtesy of Jonathan Powell