My senior year of High School I took a theater class to fill an empty spot in my schedule. Mrs. Hayes taught the class with grace and was very compassionate to a bunch of guys who had no idea what stage right was or how to use voice inflection. Several times during the year she allowed us to participate in some improvisational activities where she would call out a scene and we had to make it up as we went along. After our first try at improv Mrs. Hayes gave the class a gift she desperately wanted us to take to heart. She said, “When you are acting, don’t do anger. Anger is cheap and easy, and you are much too good to rely on something so far beneath you.” Mrs. Hayes tried to open our eyes to a universal truth; when our first impulse is to go to anger we have a control problem. Expressions of anger are a desperate attempt to control someone else when, truthfully, we are not sure how to control ourselves.
Anger and slander like to hold hands; they come from the same emotion and strive to get the same result. As we become more and more connected through screens and keyboards, we are getting more and more isolated. A simple scan through Facebook or Reddit only proves that we have lost the art of disagreeing without being contentious. Have you ever been told, “Don’t read the comments!”? We live in an era where being an internet troll is only bested by our ability to be passive aggressive. Then again maybe it’s not just this generation.
In John 8, Jesus is having another disagreement with the religious elite. Starting in verse 13 the Pharisees said because Jesus is testifying about himself that His testimony is worthless. The conversation takes a nose dive from there. By the time we get to John 8:48 the Pharisees resort to calling Jesus a “demon possessed Samaritan.” This was not the first time they accused Jesus of having a demon or working with Satan. Every gospel account includes a conversation where the Pharisees accused Jesus of not coming from God but in reality coming from the Devil (Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22, Luke 11:15). When they felt like they were losing ground they resorted to what was cheep and easy.
We use accusatory and slanderous language in an effort to control other people. From a very young age we figure out if we can talk faster, louder, and more aggressively than the other person we can control the situation. It seems at times that the older we get our desire to control only intensifies. When the Pharisees are making these attacks on the character of Christ, it is in an effort to control Him. The crowds were drawn to Jesus and His message of freedom, inclusion, mercy, and grace. If you cannot control the crowd you can at least control the one the crowd is following. These tactics don’t work with Christ, and they don’t work with those who have already given control of their lives to Christ.
I believe that a good working definition of maturity is our ability to say, “I could be wrong.” It is pure arrogance on anyone’s part to think we have a perfect understanding of the truth. We do the best we can with what we have been given. My thoughts and beliefs have changed so much in the last 20 years of this journey. I have left ideas only to return to them later, and found freedom in areas that I did not know existed. Since I realize there is so much that I don’t understand, then I should be willing to give grace to other travelers down this road.
I would like to offer two take aways I believe will be helpful to this discussion of judgement free disagreements. The first is we need to extend grace to those who are where we have been. A few years ago I was at a lectureship talking to someone with a different view than I had. I know they understood my position because they said several times, “I used to think the same way.” What I needed at that time was someone to talk with me using compassion and grace. I needed someone to say, “What really helped me was looking at this passage”, or “What was going on when Paul wrote or said”. I would have been helped on my journey by someone who went slow and loved me enough to help me understand. What I got was dismissive rhetoric that caused me to dig my heels in and distance myself from a better understanding. We need to drop this idea that because we have come to a different view we are somehow more enlightened and don’t have the time to show compassion and grace to those who are struggling in the same minefields we have already traversed.
Secondly, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth; Do everything with love (1 Corinthians 16:14). I am inclined to believe that includes how we talk to one another when we disagree. We can disagree without being a jerk. We can disagree while listening to someone else’s point of view. We can disagree and still love the person we disagree with. We can disagree and consider the fact that we might be able to use this as an opportunity to grow, stretch, and learn because we just might be wrong. I often remind the parents on the sports fields that the 16 year old out there who is doing their best to call your 7 year old’s soccer game is someone’s son or daughter. You need to talk to them them the way you would want someone to talk to your child. That’s also a good idea when you are talking about the Kingdom of God with someone who has a different understanding. The intent of those who are saved by the blood of Christ must be to let their talk be filled with grace. (Colossians 4:6)