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How to Talk to Someone with Whom you Disagree

*A version of this article was originally published by The Llano News, on April 4, 2024.


I hope today’s title does not sound too patronizing. Unfortunately, I find that this skill is increasingly lacking in a society that has become divided into echo chambers which are reinforced by social media, cable news networks, and the people with which we choose to associate. Unfortunately, religious people are often guilty of perpetuating this division.

 

Perhaps, you have come across videos and other material put out by Pastor Greg Locke. Greg is a pastor who is not afraid to say things which others might disagree. He claimed that COVID-19 was not a real pandemic. He called on his congregation not to take the vaccine, and banned people from coming to worship with masks on Sunday mornings. Some portray Greg as a freedom fighter, others see him as portraying a personality and ethic which are the opposite of Jesus, and his teachings. Personally, I fall into the latter category. How can we expect Christians to model the ability to disagree gracefully, when some pastors are not even capable of doing so?

 

Many of us just finished celebrating Easter Sunday. This triumphant tradition is one that recognizes the end-goal of Jesus’s ministry, and the ultimate hope it provided for all who call themselves Christians, today. Interestingly, Jesus’s ministry was constantly surround by people (including his disciples) who misunderstood what he was doing. This involved Jesus dealing with skeptical siblings of his disciples (Jn 1:43-46), voicing disagreement over the demands of Jewish Law (Matt 5:17), responding to hostility for his works and convictions (Mk 3:1-6), and many other instances we could note.

 

In the midst of all the conflict and misunderstanding surrounding his ministry, Jesus avoided shutting down the conversation. He managed to keep an open dialogue with even the most hostile of subjects. In doing so, he does not waver in his convictions, but he allows for conversation and exploration of people’s points-of-view. If we imitate anyone in the way we talk to others with whom we disagree, it should be Jesus, not a pastor, politician, or news personality. The following is cursory list of suggestions that seeks to help us do just that.


1.      Ask questions with humility


Jesus was the Son of God. He had no requirement to come on the scene asking questions of his listeners, pulling them along, as they gradually grasped his message and the point of his ministry. Yet, that is exactly what he does. His interactions are filled with questions which are intended to provoke thought in others, instead of blanket imperatives which they could either accept, or reject.


I will be preaching through some of these questions, starting on Sunday. Just a few of them included in this series are: “Why do you worry?” (Matt 6:25-34); “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:13-20); “Why are you so afraid?” (Mk 35-41); and “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:35-42). I venture that these questions have a two-fold function: 1. to help the listener reflect on their own thoughts; 2. to allow Jesus to hear what he already suspects/knows.


Asking questions can be difficult when we would rather jump straight to our point. But we are NOT Jesus. Not only may we be wrong about what another is thinking/feeling, we need time to process and reflect that can influence how we proceed with the conversation. Asking questions makes this possible.


2.      Challenge with patience


It is difficult NOT to identify a part of Jesus’s ministry that lacks challenge. In addition to asking thought-provoking questions, he told pointed parables meant to confront the convictions and assumptions of both his disciples, and the religious elite. Following some of them, he is cited as saying: “he who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt 11:15; Mk 4:9, 23). I believe this reveals an underlying awareness, on Jesus’s part, that not everyone will understand, or receive his challenge; however, he also seems to be confidant that those who do “get it” will be engaged and committed to his mission.


It is frustrating when people do not respond to things with the urgency that we think they should. Unfortunately, this is not something we can force, or manufacture. We have to be willing to “let the chips fall where they may,” and trust that God will use our words according to his will.


3.      Remember that God changes people, not you.


Toward the end of the Gospel of John, you see Jesus’s heart for his disciples. He desperately wants them to grasp the full picture of what God is doing through his ministry, and how it will change the world. Yet, he also knows that people are limited. He admits: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:12-13a).


Everything does not depend on us! Not only should this be a relief, it should give us confidence and peace in our conversations. This attribute, in and of itself, should make a great difference in the tone of our interactions. The lack of desperation in your effort to convince may, ironically, work to your advantage in doing so!


As you take note of these suggestions modeled by our Savior, I pray that you would “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col 4:6).

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