I’m a person of strong opinions. It’s rare that I don’t have an opinion on a subject – just ask my husband!
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering about the art of disagreement. Without meaning to, I’ve come up against passions that run high and emotions that run deep on everything from the national debt to exercise preferences to application of Scripture. While I understand the strong feelings – I have them myself – I don’t understand the hostility that targets and denigrates everyone who believes differently.
A few examples…
Late last year I posted a blog describing my observations about yoga. Do I have strong feelings about it? Yes, I do. However, what surprised me were the comments that went far beyond thoughtful agreement or disagreement (which I welcome). Some comments made to me verbally, through Facebook, and on the blog attacked those in the opposite “camp.” I found it necessary to delete several comments because of their uncontrolled vitriol. By the way, the hostility came from both sides – Christian and non.
On another note, during the past several weeks, some friends have posted scathing denunciations of Republicans, Democrats, or Tea Partyers, depending on which side of the aisle they identified with. Hyperbole abounded in an effort to portray the opposing party as unintelligent, elitist, communist…and these are some of the more civil terms!
Finally, last week, I met with a young lady who disagreed with an application I taught from Scripture. The position I hold is the position of many well-respected Christian denominations. The position she holds is also the position of many well-respected Christian denominations. Unfortunately, rather than agree to disagree, she gave vent to vehement indignation at what she pronounced to be “false teaching” simply because she did not have the same view. I should add that this was not a matter of interpretation, but simply a matter of application.
These three experiences cause me to wonder: Have we lost the ability to disagree without attacking those who hold an opposing view?
I am not saying we should compromise our convictions. But perhaps the issue is that we don’t understand the difference between a conviction and a preference. A conviction, according to Webster’s Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary, is “a fixed belief.” A preference is “the choice of one thing or person over another.” A conviction is something we would die for. A preference is not. A conviction is something we would stake our reputation on. A preference is not.
Before we engage with others on everything from politics to brands of shampoo, perhaps we should spend some time – and prayer – determining our convictions and our preferences…and deciding which is which.
Then we have a series of choices to make.
We need to choose our motive. When we respond to those who disagree with us, are we doing so out of anger, self-righteousness, or love for others caught in error?
We also need to choose our venues. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). A social media venue such as Facebook is not the place for Christians to unleash a torrent of negative comments about non-believers, and then expect to be a witness to our unbelieving friends! (Come to think of it, Christians shouldn’t be doing that anywhere!)
Finally, we need to choose our words. Some words are more emotionally-charged than others, igniting fires and leaving charred remains in their path. Certainly not what we want to do if our goal is to persuade others to our views.
The art of disagreement does not require compromising our convictions. It does not even entail parking our preferences. It does involve respecting those who disagree with us. Who knows? Someday, they may even be won over to our way of thinking…or we may be won over to theirs!
How might distinguishing between preferences and convictions help you handle disagreements?