Disagreeing Like a Christian

how to disagree like a Christian

I’ve grieved the last few years over how angry and fragmented our society has become. Disagreements certainly aren’t new, but they seem to be more numerous and angry than I have ever seen.

Maybe it’s always been this way, and social media just brings it all out into the open. I don’t know.

But hatefulness and personal attacks seem more prevalent now than I have ever known.

I used to hear the phrase, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” People would discuss a point where they differed, come to an impasse, and set it aside. They didn’t let politics or policies come between their friendship. The issue in question might come up again, but they didn’t feel a need to hammer away at it every time they talked.

Nowadays, it seems people aren’t content to just disagree. They have to constantly poke at the issue on social media. They can’t stop with “I think you’re wrong.” They have to insinuate that people who think or do differently from themselves are stupid or somehow morally inferior.

It’s even more grievous when these zinger posts or snarky memes come at the hands of Christians.

Disagreements are inevitable. But is there a way to handle them without destroying our testimony or harming others or making things worse?

I think so. Here are some considerations.

Decide if it’s worth it to voice disagreement. You’ve heard the saying, “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” Proverbs 26:17 says, “Like one who grabs a dog by the ears is a passerby who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” Paul told Timothy, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

Now, Paul certainly engaged in controversy. He had no problem taking a stand and even naming people who were wrong. But his arguments were over the truth of the gospel and godly practice. People could be led astray from the Lord by what false teachers were spreading, so Paul had to take a stand. But there were other “foolish, ignorant controversies” that it would do more harm than good to get into.

Paul also told Titus, another young pastor, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). He went on to say, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (verses 10-11). There are some people who love to bait others, to stir up controversy, to do little but argue. We’ve had to unfriend some of these kinds of people on social media after a number of appeals were ignored. Proverbs 26:4-5 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” There are times to answer someone and times not to. We need God’s leading and wisdom to know which.

Keep in mind our purpose. If our motive is scoring points for our side, that’s just pride. That’s not a good enough reason to engage. If we want to correct what we consider wrong in a person’s thinking or change their minds, we can’t just blast away at them. We need to keep in mind our bigger purpose, over and above our current disagreement: to love and please God, to love and minister to people.

Keep the right tone. Paul went on to instruct Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

If I see something on Facebook or Twitter that gets me riled up, I know that’s not the time to respond. I have to give it enough time that I am not angry and I am thinking clearly. I lamented to my daughter-in-law recently that I had tried to be very careful and even on a certain controversial issue online, trying to state my case yet not provoke others. But other people seemed to just blast away without regard to whether they offended anyone else. I pondered out loud, “Why can’t I just say what I think?” She said, “Because the Holy Spirit in you is working.” I’m thankful He checks my spirit. I don’t always respond as I should, but I am trying.

James refers to “the meekness of wisdom” and says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:13, 17).

Make sure we understand their position. We need to ask questions and repeat back to them what we think they’re saying. If you follow some Facebook and Twitter threads, you see some people are way off track from the original statement. Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” The New Living translation puts it a little more colorfully: “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” James says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

A fear years ago when I was a community guest columnist for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, someone took me to task over something I’d written. The only problem was, I had not said or implied what he inferred. But I could not seem to convince him that he had read into my writing what wasn’t there.

We need to be careful not to presume, infer, or extrapolate.

Look for areas of agreement. In today’s “cancel culture,” when a person publicly does one thing wrong or holds one unpopular opinion, they’re totally blasted on social media. But disagreeing on one point doesn’t mean we’re totally against everything the person says or stands for.

Acknowledge their strong points. Sometimes we think we need to demean or ridicule someone’s position in order to argue against it. That will only make them defensive and unwilling to listen. And often it’s dishonest.

In Andrew T. Le Peau’s book, Write Better, he says, “If we want to be honest persuaders, we will be on the lookout for and stay away from hasty generalizations, false analogies, demonizing opponents, avoiding or sidelining the central issue (that is, using red herrings), and more. Honesty means respecting the truth as best we can know it, respecting contrary viewpoints, giving due credit, and using logic” (p. 44). He points out that “presenting the arguments for these other viewpoints in as strong a form as possible” (p. 55) is not only honest, but doing so actually strengthens our own arguments and the solutions we offer.

Argue against the issue, not the person. We need to avoid getting personal. We don’t need to demean or put down the other person.

Avoid pride. My son commented that some positions are morally superior. That’s true. But if we defend them from a standpoint of pride or condescension, we’re not going to gain hearers.

Years ago, before Facebook and even message boards, people could gather together over shared interests through email subscription loops. Everyone who joined the loop would get all the emails of anyone who participated. I was on one for a medical condition around the time that stem cells began making news. Some of us were concerned about stem cells being harvested from fetuses. Others did not regard a fetus as a viable human being. The issue could have blown up into a shouting match and led to a division in the group. By carefully wording what we had to say, both sides were able to voice their concerns. We could come to a better understanding of each other even if we couldn’t agree.

Romans 14

In Romans 14, Paul discusses how to handle different convictions among Christians on issues where the Bible did not have clear dividing lines. He didn’t tell them to hammer things out until everyone was on the same page. He told them it’s possible to live in love and unity with others in the body of Christ even when people have different opinions. They weren’t to despise or judge each other (verses 3-4). They should do everything as unto the Lord—even if they were doing different things (verse 6). They should be “fully convinced in their own mind” (verse 5) and remember we’re all accountable to the Lord (verses 7-12). They needed to be careful not to cause others to stumble (verses 13-21).

One of the issues of that day concerned what was okay to eat. Paul reminded them, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.”

I’m afraid, in our zeal over controversy today, we haven’t put much thought into whether we’re destroying the work of God.

Jesus warned us that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).

Most of these points take time and thought. And social media does not lend itself to context and nuance. Social media seems to thrive on drive-by barbs, on flinging verbal fuel for the fire rather than trying to put fires out. So social media may not be the best place to have meaningful discussions on hair-trigger issues. But It’s not impossible. We can let our lights shine there if we keep in mind God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.

Ephesians 4:29. Build each other up with grace

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