I am one for getting worked up. I often avoid discourse on issues of politics and religion simply because I fear that I will lose my temper arguing with people who disagree with me. Let’s face it, seldom do we engage in an argument or topic we do not care about; we engage people who attack or call into question the things we care most about. So, how do we civilly engage others concerning topics we can’t agree upon?
I am very passionate about the Gospel, and God has called me as a missionary to Muslim peoples. There is no group of people on planet Earth who are more willing to engage with you about personal views concerning Jesus, God, the Trinity, Salvation, etc. than a Muslim person. In many respects, Islam and Christianity couldn’t disagree more on some very basic fundamentals, such as Jesus’ deity, the triune nature of God, God’s mercy versus judgment, the means by which we are saved, married, advocating for women’s rights–the list goes on. Over the years, I have learned how to navigate the minefield of disagreements that are bound to happen in missionary work. Here are some of my suggestions, which are applicable in both religious and political disagreements, especially as we progress in this election year.
Over the years, I have learned how to navigate the minefield of disagreements that are bound to happen in missionary work
First: don’t sacrifice your reputation or testimony to win an argument. It is absolutely essential that we stand for truth, no matter the cost, especially in a time when the truth seems to be whatever is expedient. However, when standing for truth we must avoid belittling, berating, or attacking people personally for the views they hold. If we do this as believers we not only hurt our reputation but the reputation of Christ. “If you love each other, all men will know you are My followers.” (John 13:35) Truth and love work hand in hand, and you cannot maintain one while sacrificing the other. If I love someone I must be willing to share hard truth with them, even if it conflicts with their worldview or makes them uncomfortable. But if I truly want someone to know the truth, then I have to do my due diligence to be patient, and kind when communicating my views to someone who does not understand me.
Imagine having the task of a math teacher. When teaching math, we must have about ten different ways to present the solution to a problem. If the student does not understand, you must ask them what they don’t understand, then present it in a different way. If the math teacher becomes belligerent or angry the student will withdraw from the problem and end up hating math. But if the solution is explained patiently, most students have that moment where all of a sudden, like a revelation on the mountainside, it all makes sense.
Truth and love work hand in hand, and you cannot maintain one while sacrificing the other.
Second: set the tone. When I mention Way of the Master, Evangelism Explosion, or the Romans Road to salvation, most people vomit a little in their mouths. Could that be because almost all street evangelism we have witnessed or experienced has had a very confrontational tone? It is often done with good intentions, but by very confrontational people, who are showing signs of frustration. But when I watch videos of Ray Comfort, the founder of Way of the Master, I see he really was a “master” at his craft. His tone was jovial, nearly joking when he asked questions about being a thief, a liar, and an adulterer. In his videos where he used that joyful and light tone, he managed to turn a very weighty subject into one that was relatable, confessional, and even thought-provoking to those he engaged with.
Unfortunately, most people who engaged the masses using such tools have had an accusatory tone, and it has done more harm than good. So, when a weighty discussion arises, do your best to be lighthearted, personable, and joyful. Carry a calming tone to warm the heart of the offended, and abstain from becoming the offended yourself.
When a weighty discussion arises do your best to be lighthearted, personable, and joyful.
Third: ask good questions. Most of us, including myself, prefer to lecture than to learn. We would rather give our opinion than understand the opinions of others. Yet, the best lecturers are often those who did the best research and who continue to be the best students. The best doctors know how to ask the right questions of their patients to draw out the answers so that the patient might receive the best treatment. The most powerful tool in my conversation box is my ability to ask good questions of someone who believes differently than me. Why? Because putting forward a question takes you off the defense and allows you to sit back and observe. It allows you to really listen, not only to their argument but to their history.
Understanding how a person came to their conclusions is as important as, if not more important than understanding the argument itself. When you ask genuine questions because you want to know how and why others think the way they do, it not only shows the person that you actually care about them and their opinion, it actually helps you as the observer to better form an accurate understanding of the subject, person, arguments, and ideas being presented.
My problem is that we can get caught up in the moment and forget these guiding principles amidst disagreement. When that is the case, our actions can end up warranting an apology, when our behavior should lead to us standing confident in the principles and truth by which we live our lives.