If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony.
In his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” Patrick Lencioni unravels how teams destroy trust and productivity within the workplace. This leadership fable is a great read for any manager but even for those who just want to grow into more authentic and honest relationships overall.
In recent years the private and public discourse on most any topic has become toxic on multiple levels. Families have become increasingly divided, friendships have ended and business relationships severed over vaccines, masks or over the latest whatever the current “in thing” is now.
Very few have escaped this, at least within any first world country. One would almost have to live as a hermit in some backwoods to avoid offending someone. I know of families that have been so fractured they can barely stand being in the same room together. Deeply rooted bitterness or worse condescending narcissism have infiltrated the faith community and many family dinner tables.
I could relate stories here - shocking stories that occurred within “Christian” settings… where families turned on each other. Many of those relationships remain scarred today as they avoid talking through the pain and instead choose to hide beneath the veil of a fake smile.
It is actually no wonder that while culture and Church grappled with this we saw many struggle with their faith. After all, if the Church... called to follow Christ's authenticity cannot be authentic… then the answer by logic must be somewhere else.
But then we see that the culture outside of the Christian Church faired no better in this… actually much worse. Authenticity has certainly taken a backseat and political correctness has moved into the driver seat. Workplaces have tried to shut down authenticity to ensure no one has an offensive opinion. The problem of course is that everyone will eventually have an offensive opinion. If one says nothing they are stuck up… if they speak they will surely say the wrong thing.
In all this… my question is “Where is the Church?”
Where is the called out ones?
I have heard this phrase so often in faith communities:
“if you talk about this I’m leaving”.
This mantra has indeed become a form of cancellation under the guise of a “religious” response to anything we disagree with. The Christian has emulated the media soaked culture we live in and has adopted the cultural approach by simply adopting a Christian version of cancel culture. The fact is that such a response is completely inauthentic and has the exact same effect as outright cancellation in that it attempts to silence the opposition instead of engaging them.
I love this quote by Jillian Turecki
“People avoid uncomfortable conversations to “keep the peace”… but peace is NOT the goal of a relationship, LOVE is, and when we Love someone we have the hard conversations that service that Love”
Patrick Lencioni says further to this:
“I don’t think anyone ever gets completely used to conflict. If it’s not a little uncomfortable, then it’s not real. The key is to keep doing it anyway.”
We don’t have to give up our viewpoint to hear someone else's…
It’s difficult to hear opinions that we do not agree with however…
we aren’t going to have much impact on the world if we cannot emphasize with those around us…
and we will never empathize with the world around us unless we engage them and hear about their passions and interests.
Perhaps we can overlook our trigger words and just hear what our family, or friends, or coworkers are saying?
Many years ago when I was in the Christian Book Distribution business I had a very difficult customer who was just an awful person to our staff and myself. I don’t remember the details but I do remember being shocked at the change in her demeanor when I asked “What’s really bothering you? It can’t just be this thing you are angry about!”. She immediately broke down on the phone and described a series of emotional struggles she was immersed in. She was drowning… I do not remember what the end result was of that discussion but I do remember the call ended better than it began because I was curious… I asked a question that was meant to dig deeper into the core issue so we could actually solve the problem. I didn’t expect her to unload her life… but that’s the thing… sometimes when we disengage from conversation we walk away from a conversation that Christs love could shine!
I am no saint in this area, I can think of several relationships that could be better if we could get past individual biases and actually talked through differences. In my mind I say “I’m tired of uncomfortable conversations”… at the same time I also know that without such conversations we cannot heal relationships, find common ground or develop respect for each others views. While we need to protect ourselves and others from abusive debate or genuinely hateful or narcissistic disrespectful arguments… we become inauthentic if we disengage at the first sign of disagreement.
Since the 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic intolerance for opposing viewpoints has escalated to fever pitch. Let’s take a look at a just a few things that set people off on a tangent of cancellation or angry response:
Black Lives Matter
Critical Race Theory
Right wing or left wing
Christianity and Judaism
The Truckers convoy
Each one of these… when read by those living in North America potentially can create a visceral response. For some it will be joy and others will be anger. The conflict comes with what we do with that visceral response, we can antagonize the “other side”, poke for responses with shots, insults or anger… or conversely we can ask questions of the opposite viewpoint. We could learn something and perhaps they could as well. Now… perhaps the end result will be an “agreement to disagree”… but within a Christian setting there should be a capacity to listen and respond without anger. It is disingenuous to feign a hate for the division the words cause and leave any conversation before it starts because one hates the strife they personally feel when a discussion starts.
We need to realize that disagreement does not equal hatred. We must realize as well that these visceral responses may be deepening the divide… anger will likely create an angry response. This includes the person who shuts down a conversation because they are angry about the division that a topic brings.
How about just being curious? Like that conversation I had with my customer years ago… my question uncovered a deeper hurt that drove the anger this person had. Questions can help us understand “the other side”. Questions can create an environment where empathy increases. Questions can help us learn about other’s experiences and perhaps find common ground… perhaps even heal relationships or bring someone to salvation?
This verse from James 5 contains a beautiful truth that just clicks into this topic
“…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
The Greek word for confess used here is “exomologeó”, which means:
“to agree, confess”
This means that in the body of Christ we are being encouraged to share or hearts, to come to agreement that we are lacking in holiness. Confessing our sins, or our faults is shown here as a way to grow healing in both our physical bodies and the body of Christ.
To be fair that doesn’t mean that we will agree on everything… but it does potentially move us from angry dissension to respectful dialogue or an agreement to disagree.
Galatians 5 adds this contains verse… “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
The Bible is clear reading further in this chapter on what sin is… but it appears equally clear on the calling of the believer to act in a manner that is not seeking to provoke angry or silence an opponent.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
Galatians 5:25-26 ESV
In a world that is obsessed with tolerance… but acting in opposition to that ideal the Church is called to live truly countercultural. This calling remains after 2000 plus years of Christianity. As it was then… the people around us will notice Christianity when we stop getting sucked into useless debates but start asking questions…
Why do you feel like that about this topic?
What brought you to this position?
Well, I’m wondering how you feel about this opposite perspective?
Why do you feel that way?
I see your very passionate about this topic, why is that?
Yeah, your right about that aspect however what about this perspective?
As you can see, each of these is a question designed to open understanding and deepen communication. We want to discover things about each other and expose the real issues that hinder relationships with each other and God. The idea is to peel back layers so that we can come to a place where we understand what is driving the response and have opportunity to speak truth.
“Now here is my own more modest goal. I want to put a stone in his shoe. All I want to do is give him something worth thinking about. I want him to hobble away on a nugget of truth that annoys him in a good way, something he can’t simply ignore because it continues to poke at him.” - Greg Koukl
Listening to someone’s story doesn’t lesson our view on what is and what is not sin… it just gives us the opportunity to understand their journey and as we communicate truth in Love it simultaneously “places a stone in their shoe”. Being curious can open conversations into what truth is and leave lasting impressions with others.