There has been quite a bit of talk in social media lately about progressives vs conservatives. Even the fact that there is a “vs” between those two terms bothers me but that is how this all gets presented…it should bother us.
In listening to and even engaging in a few of these conversations myself there have been a few things that I think are worth taking a few moments to examine. I am going to offer this up in a series of posts. The first thing I want to talk about is how to have a productive conversation. Here are a few things to consider:
Labels – Labels are shorthand. Labels give you a general sense for where someone is coming from. Labels do not allow you to extrapolate the general to all specifics. The label of conservative or progressive tell you what someone believes on any specific issue. It is like calling a car a sports car. That label gives you a general idea that the car is probably relatively fast, handles decently and probably doesn’t seat a family of six. It does not tell you what type of transmission the car has, where the engine is located or how many gears it has. We get in a mess when we take the general and assume we know the specific. Don’t assume you know what someone believes. Ask them. Don’t get lazy and run over people. Do your homework…the homework that is required of having a Christ-like conversation over difficult and sensitive subjects.
Love and respect – We are called to love even our enemies…I assume the person on the other side of the theological spectrum is not truly your enemy and that means that you really are called to love them and even…forgive them! If you genuinely care about someone you will treat them in a respectful fashion. You will let them define their beliefs for themselves rather than you doing it for them. Loving and respectful people see no need to resort to personal attacks, defensiveness or accusations. Loving and respectful people can differentiate between the person they are talking with and the issues they are talking about. Everyone demands respect but few actually give it. Love and respect also require that you apologize when you are wrong…the fact that this rarely happens is a testimony to the fact that somehow we have come to believe that as long as the debate is theological, then none of the rules of Christian decorum apply. There are people in this world that are genuinely nice people until they talk theology.
Listening – Respect requires one to listen to the other person. I don’t find a lot of that going on these days in theological discussions. I see a whole lot of talk, a whole lot of assumptions, speculation, wild conclusions and even accusations but not a lot of listening. I really wish more discussions would follow the “speaker-listener” technique. If you don’t know what that is, read about it here and think about how this approach might lead to more beneficial discussions. In online discussions this means reading…read what the other person wrote and then read it again…before you post a comment read what you wrote and then read it again. Does your comment accurately reflect what you are trying to communicate or distract from a productive conversation? If you aren’t clear about what the other person said, ask for clarification.
We can do a better job than we have done. Remember, when it comes to social media…the world really is watching. I would hope we can all agree that when the world watches Christians we all hope they will see Jesus. Do they?
“I assume the person on the other side of the theological spectrum is not truly your enemy and that means that you really are called to love them and even…forgive them!”
I think some people within Christianity actually view the other side as a real enemy much like ISIS. This is beyond sad and I think it is why so many younger people feel like they aren’t wanted in churches.
You’re correct about theological discussions not following the rules of Christian decorum. i have heard too many people, including myself, condemned to hell for having opinions different than the traditional ones. This is no way to show the love of Christ.