I think it’s safe to say that one of the fatal flaws in the Evangelical Christian Church today is our inability to talk to one another civilly about pressing culturally relevant issues facing our society. Within the last four years this has become increasingly more evident amidst our ever changing, and overly aggressive political climate. Whether you’re on the left-side, right-side, or somewhere in the middle, everyone seems to be operating from a framework of scarcity that’s rooted in fear.
Our fear(s) of losing power, control, identity, and place has made us so argumentative that we’re no longer able to hear and digest anything other than our own points of view. We have become so fragile that the very idea of critique has rendered us inept at sustaining fruitful discussion that leads to spiritual growth, instead of dissension.
In writing this, my desire is not to be overly critical of us, the Church, His body.
My intent is to catalyze critical thought that leads to less arguing for argument’s sake, and more healthy conversations for the sake of building up the Church and sustaining relationships. These types of conversations are an essential piece in reclaiming the lost art of civil discourse.
Civil Discourse, the type of conversation that leads to mutual understanding, not arguing for argument’s sake, is to ultimately point us back to Jesus; the giver and perfecter of abundant life. As Christians, He has given us the ability, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to sit with one another in the midst of tension.
To express love, kindness and generosity while navigating the pertinent issues of our day.
Since the 2016 election, I have personally felt as if I’m living in a vortex of perpetual disagreement. When the election was over, I found myself perplexed. I was asking “how?” quite often. I disagreed with the choice that my country, and particularly the evangelical community, resolved to make. I felt betrayed…alone and lost in the conflict.
At that point, being the directionally challenged person I am, I knew I was in need of a compass. Something(s) that could help me make sense of how this happened and why.
I found that few people were willing to have a conversation about what was going on, and even fewer wanted to partake in civil discourse. For me 2016 marked the beginning of what would be a season of disagreement that has shown little mercy. As a Jesus following African American woman, I’ve found myself disagreeing on a regular basis with my country, the Evangelical Church, and at times my faith.
However, in the midst of these disagreements, God has reminded me of the benefits found in civil discourse. A kind discourse that makes space for disagreement while creating space for righteous anger, holy sadness, relational rebuke, and the cultivation of friendship.
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus never calls us to avoid tension, talking about hard things, or disagreement.
In fact, He does just the opposite. He calls us to engage the world through the lens of robust, Jesus centered, gospel truth; radically living counter culturally. It is possible to disagree while remaining unified. The American Church has historically found great comfort in tribalism, which has severely limited our ability to engage in civil discourse. It seems that whenever someone points out a complexity in a view we hold dear, we run away, seeking to find a “yes and amen” from whatever homogeneous group we hail.
As followers of Jesus, our faith must become more resilient.
It must allow for our viewpoints and thoughts to be challenged; making room for complex questions and robust theological discussions that aren’t quickly settled by anemic, feel-good phrases from our morning devotionals. This type of faith is the very foundation of discourse.
In the words of Elif Shafak, Turkish-British Novelist/activist “One should never ever remain silent out of fear of complexity.”
I couldn’t agree more.
In these divisive times, one of the things that we as disciples of Jesus are called to do is maintain unity.
We don’t do that by disengaging from complexity or condoning the self-centered, fragile gospel of the world that has infiltrated our friendships, churches, and political framework, giving way to dissension instead of civility. It’s by no mistake that 24% of the Bible is discourse. Jesus, as well as other torchbearers of the faith like Paul, Peter, and the woman at the well knew that discourse was essential to our understanding of one another, as well as the social complexities of our world.
Discourse, by way of challenge helps us to think logically and consistently; enabling us to put what we’re learning in action in order to create sustainable change that is mutually beneficial. By avoiding or refusing to engage with people who might disagree with us, we’re dulling one of the tools God wants to use to sharpen us both individually and corporately.
There’s no doubt that in the coming days, weeks, and months prior to, and after, the 2020 election, that many of us will find ourselves disagreeing on many issues. Of course there will be frustration and tension.
However, there are three things that I believe will allow us, as Jesus followers, to continue to bear with one another in the midst of any disagreement, or pending challenge to our worldview:
1) Love – for God and neighbor
2) Commitment – to God and unity
3) Valuing Civil Discourse
Without love, commitment, and valuing civil discourse our disagreements have, and will continue to destroy our witness.
Our need to be right must never become more important than reflecting God’s love through our relationships.
Scripture says that His disciples are known by how we love one another (John 13:34-35). Jesus’ words here are profound; especially when we consider that not one of us is easy to love all the time, or even half the time. We have differing personalities, insecurities, and ways of doing things that bug the heck out of one another. But loving each other when societal times are hard and gritty, when conflict is around every corner and tensions are high, is exactly what God desires us to do.
To not grow faint of heart but go on loving and doing life together for the sake of the gospel.
Let’s practice loving one another through practicing discourse.
The enemy of our soul tells us the lie that we can’t love in the midst of disagreement. That civil discourse surrounding societal issues has no place in the church, that we have to look the same, vote the same, and agree with one another, in order to love and relate to each other. Jesus calls us to walk in unity amidst the paradox.
Proclaim this to your soul today:
No matter the disagreement, Jesus overcame all relational chasms by way of the cross and the resurrection, and it is through His power and strength that we participate in discourse courageously, graciously, and lovingly.
Ashley Bell was born and raised in a little town in Virginia and moved to Portland in 2007 to attend Seminary at Multnomah University. After graduating she moved to Tallahassee, Florida. However, in 2012 the Lord so graciously provided for her to return to Portland to begin working at Multnomah, while getting another masters in education. Ashley currently works at Cedar Mill Bible Church as the Outreach Pastor. Ashley believes that discipleship is not only an essential part of our relationship with Jesus, but it is also essential in the process of becoming astute, kind, loving, citizens, that are committed to engaging relationally, and lovingly with present social realities. Her greatest desire is to be an accurate reflection of the grace and love of Jesus Christ to everyone she encounters.