This last Thursday evening I attended Life House’s annual banquet at which the Benham brothers told their story of how they nearly had a show on a cable network but had it canceled because of their Christian beliefs which were on record. These ideas that some folks found disagreeable led those who disagreed to engage in ad hominem (against the person) attacks rather than addressing the substance of the beliefs. Rather than participate in civil discussion anymore, many people seem all too eager to paint others as bigots and haters while at the same time preaching, hypocritically, tolerance and acceptance. I will also go so far as to say that Christians are guilty of this same tactic and ought not to use it, especially if we truly believe that our goal on earth is reaching those whom we, by faith, believe need God’s love, mercy, and grace. “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” my grandmother used to say.
Last September, I attended an event at Murray State University centered on desserts and conversation with the LGBT community. I participated in this event to better understand how they might perceive Christians with traditional values and also to express, as a conservative, traditional Christian, that our disagreements do not at all equal hatred. This meeting led to a lunch that I had with one from the LGBT community, and we were able to honestly and openly express our views to one another without vitriol and judgment. I found this individual to be a kind and generous person, and at the conclusion of our lunch, we hugged as we parted.
In his book The 8th Habit, author Stephen Covey urged his readers, “Seek, first, to understand, and then to be understood.” This was arguably the greatest takeaway from this book that I had. Too often we’re all only interested in being understood, but not understanding. Biases and prejudices keep us from wanting to entertain another’s point of view, but when we engage person-to-person with those whom we may find disagreeable, we’ll likely learn that there’s more to them as a person than this one fragment we find faulty.
As Christians, we who claim Christ as our Lord must remember the wisdom we receive from His heavenly counsel. “The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17 ESV). While we all have certain proclivities towards this or that, we must be willing to listen to others because we may very well learn more. However, we usually listen, not to understand, but to answer. Our minds are rapidly anticipating the answer we’ll give rather than comprehend the other’s viewpoint. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
Will we ever be able to get beyond name-calling and again have civil discussions? One can only hope. If we desire it, however, we must lead by example. This may entail taking it on the chin from time to time, but eventually, we may be able to do some good.