There are always high profile issues going on in our world. Many times, these issues tug at our emotions and polarize us from opposing viewpoints. As Christians, we must avoid this temptation to become polarized and remember those with whom we disagree, even those we are working against, are still loved by and made in the image of God. If we are going to be effective at loving others and loving Jesus, we can’t throw love out the window as soon as an emotionally charged issue presents itself.

Here I’ve listed a few points I believe can be helpful to Christians in navigating many of these emotionally connected issues.

The Importance of a Conversation

Yelling at someone rarely changes their opinion. If you want someone to be open to your side, your primary tactic should not be to tell them how despicable a human being you think they are for disagreeing with you. This is not only not helpful, this is not the way of Jesus.

A helpful story here is found in Luke 19, recording Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Roman authorities in Israel. To any patriotic Jew living in Israel in the first century, the Romans were to be viewed as oppressors and, hopefully, soon-to-be overthrown. A tax collector was a local that collected money for the Romans. To the Jewish people, these tax collectors were one of the clearest examples of traitors and some of the worst kind of sinners. Tax collectors were generally hated by the populace, effectually social pariahs. (To be fair, history seems to indicate that tax collectors often engaged in dishonest practice, so they are not entirely without fault)

Jesus, rather than discounting Zacchaeus as a hopeless wretched sinner, chose to engage with and spend time with him. He ate a meal with him. This is a model we should hope to follow.

Conversations with those whom you disagree can open up a world of new understanding and potentially expose areas both in which you failed to truly understand the other side or in which you find your own thinking may actually be flawed.

Additionally, conversations help to focus on the ideas and beliefs of an individual rather than on some amorphous blob of people that you don’t connect with. If you believe that what you want to share is truly important, consider engaging in a conversation with an individual person or a small group of people, rather than sharing a blanket opinion with everyone on social media.

(Yes, I do realize the irony of sharing this post via social media)

A little bit of nuance

Even a tiny bit of nuance in a viewpoint can have a radical effect on the outcome of the conversation. I have found that very rarely does someone I’m discussing with actually hold 100% to the position I think they hold to when we begin talking. Often through the course of the conversation, slight deviations are often revealed and help give clarity to the individual’s perspective.

While it is certainly possible that the person you’re conversing with will be completely opposed to your viewpoint, and vice versa, we should be careful to avoid this assumption at the outset. Looking for the nuances in the other person’s point of view will help expose flaws in your own thinking, allow for the formation of common ground, and help create a more charitable tolerance of the viewpoints you still disagree with.

How do we find the nuances? Ask good questions.

Ask why they think their position is true. Ask how they arrived at the conclusion they came to. Ask if they have considered other points of view. In critical conversations, such as those being described here, why a person holds to a belief is just as important as the belief they hold. You may disagree strongly with another person’s belief, but try to be charitable and ask if the reason they hold to that belief is rational. If they hold the belief rationally, it may be a time for self-reflection on your part.

Additionally, asking good questions is a great way to expose problems in others’ thinking. It may be that the person you are discussing with is well-intentioned, but hasn’t carefully examined their own view. In our age of social media and trends, it is easy to follow a popular opinion without really questioning why we ought to adopt that position.

A whole lot of humility

Finding nuance in the conversation is important, but being humble about the conversation is key. No matter how correct we think we are, we don’t know everything. In trying to be humble, we must always approach the conversation with the possibility that we might be wrong about our position. This does not mean that we must accept every other idea or fall sway to relativism. Rather, it is an approach for mere self-reflection when it comes to important issues. If you champion a cause and spend time, effort, and energy in advance of that cause only to later discover you were wrong, not only were you championing the wrong side, you made the work of the right side more difficult!

Instead of assuming “I can’t be wrong on this,” try approaching the conversation with, “I don’t think I’m wrong about this, but what if I am?”

Additional Reading

Winsome Persuasion by Dr. Tim Muehlhoff

Tactics by Greg Koukl

Tyler Bauer holds an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University and is currently pursuing MAs in Philosophy and Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary