We Can Differ, But We Can Also Be Kind

words

There’s an older essay by David Aikman’s essay in Christianity Today entitled “Attack Dogs of Christendom: Is this how to bring grace and savor to a crumbling civilization?”

The pull quote says it all:

“No attribute of civilized life seems more under attack than civility.”

Aikman’s article is about our infighting, how we as Christians throw rocks at each other, particularly those we disagree with. He says no one has been immune, citing Billy Graham or Rick Warren’s experience with nasty diatribes flung their way on the web and blogosphere. Even Elizabeth Elliot stirred controversy on websites because she refused to “separate from heretics.”

Aikman adds, “What disturbs me, however, is the extent to which some Christians have turned themselves into the the self-appointed attack dogs of Christendom. They seem determined to savage not only the opponents to Christianity, but also fellow believers whose doctrinal positions they disapprove.”

I received correspondence that basically said, “If I quote so and so, I shouldn’t be surprised I’d get attacked.” I’m reminded of a teen who was zealous about right doctrine (please hear me: I’m married to a DTS grad; I love theology; I love the Bible). When I told this person I’d be putting a quote by Emerson (“All writing comes by the grace of God”) on my wall in my  office, he scoffed, telling me about the dangers of Emerson. While I know Emerson’s philosophies aren’t ones I want to adhere to completely, I worry about folks who have so sequestered themselves that they can’t even read other perspectives without getting angry.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for orthodoxy. We should. It’s our duty to do so–to rightly discern heresy from biblical truth.

But it’s the manner in which we do so that keeps me up at night.

Can we criticize? Yes.

Can we call into question certain doctrines that are contrary to the Word of God? Yes.

But how?

By SHOUTING in cyberspace? By calling leaders names? By making fun, ridiculing, and elevating ourselves above others? I think of Jesus when I watch this. He didn’t shrink from telling the truth. He even overturned tables and had harsh things to say about people who enslaved others. But he did so with love. His heart in every interaction was to bring reconciliation. He didn’t have to argue to prove his point (he would always be right), but to point out error so that a clearer path could be forged toward reconciliation.

Our words are deeply powerful. They’re meaner than sticks and stones and nuclear weapons. We must season them with grace, with kindness, with reconciliation in mind. And a huge dose of humility.

I’ve been there. When I was younger in the faith, I railed against folks who differed from me. I’m ashamed to admit it here. But as I grew, something funny happened. I became less easily offended. I grew in grace. If you look at the passages about the weaker and stronger believer, you’ll see something highly interesting: the one who is stronger is less offended, more free. The one who is considered weaker is easily offended and must be tiptoed around.

I remember reading an article about the late Keith Green. Someone asked what he would’ve been like in his later years. Green, known for his activism and passion, according to this person, would’ve become more grace oriented in his later years. Isn’t that a wonderful measure of us as we grow closer to Jesus? That we become so steeped in grace that it overflows our hearts to be kind even to those we deem as enemies? What profit is it if we can’t even love those we differ from?

Our battle is not against folks. It’s against the principalities and powers of this earth. But too often, we shoot at the wrong enemy. And with words as virulent as any weapon.

  • James Watkins

    Thanks! Such an important post. I’m sharing it on Facebook!

    • Mary DeMuth

      Thank you!

  • This is so true. I grew up in a tradition that was founded on divisiveness. I went through some documents that my dad had filed away since before I was born when he was the district association’s clerk, and was just appalled at the 19th century church polity propaganda that was still being pushed in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Then I realized I know way too much 19th and 20th century Landmarkism history – as if I were indoctrinated with it. haha! 🙂 But I told that to say this: having been indoctrinated, it’s almost ingrained in me to fight for the truth at all costs. But in those moments of clarity when I actually listen to the Holy Spirit, I am left with Truth rather than truth. And the Truth is Jesus and His Gospel. Not church polity, not denominational doctrine, not Christian Culture, and certainly not everything (and in some cases anything) from Celebrity Christians. I know I often just want to be right and for everybody to know I am right. Except when I do that, even if I am doctrinally and theologically correct, I rarely exhibit the humility necessary to truly be right because it’s about winning the argument instead of pointing people to Jesus.

    I was wrestling (still am, actually) with a resentment against several celebrity Christian leaders, and how to deal with what I see as a lot of abandoning of Jesus for political power, and I heard, “Follow me.” I remembered the story in John 21:20-23. That’s my answer. I am not to concern myself with what they do or say, I need to follow Jesus.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Of course there is a time to stand for truth, and it must be wrestled with, yet delivered with humility and grace. Unfortunately, the Internet is an extremely difficult place to have those kind of conversations. I don’t always walk the line well between grace and truth. It’s not easy!