Our men’s bible study is going through a challenging but hopeful book by Scott Sauls called “Befriend.” The premise is fairly simple: Christians need to take seriously the call to befriend those with whom we disagree or would normally run from. Not exactly a novel concept, but it would certainly be a novel and welcomed practice today.
According to a new poll from Pew Research, Republicans and Democrats possess very few if any friends from the opposing political party. But then again, did we need a poll to confirm that?
But why can’t we all just get along and be more open-minded? Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers recently lamented the closing of the standard evangelical mind in an ESPN article, claiming:
“I think organized religion can have a mind-debilitating effect, because there is an exclusivity that can shut you out from being open to the world, to people, and energy, and love and acceptance.”
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I actually agree. It can. I’ve seen evangelicals, of which I consider myself, become the most close-minded, unwilling to listen to a differing viewpoint, even if it comes from the scriptures.
But it is not simply a conservative or evangelical problem. In fact, the New York Times published journalist Brett Stephens’ lament-filled address to secular colleagues in Australia. He centers the inability to disagree well within the entire human spectrum, reminding us all that, “street and campus protests are increasingly violent, personal conversations that are increasingly embittering … we judge each other morally depending upon where we stand politically.”
The supposed “open-mind” is about as open as Chick-fil-A on a Sunday.
I don’t do well at disagreement, but I want to get better. Let me offer up a solution from the scriptures.
A small town in first century Macedonia called Berea seems to present a potentially helpful model moving forward. The writer of the book of Acts, Luke (who also wrote the Gospel of Luke) has journeyed along with the Apostle Paul and records various gospel responses, from an Ewok-esque deification, to jealous anger, to violent protests and beatings, to welcome reception and respectful disagreement. Luke records the latter as specifically stemming from the collective “noble” or “open-mindedness” of the Berean Jews (Acts 17).”
When the Berans were approached by a strange Jew claiming to have seen Jesus post resurrection, and how the entire Jewish scriptures pointed toward Him, they didn’t get offended, shut down the conversation, and call him a conservative or liberal. Nope, they listened diligently and examined the consistency of this new message with their ultimate authority at the time, the Old Testament.
They were actually open-minded. Many believed, but not everyone did. And yet, there is no record of jealousy, rioting, violence, or even demonizing as there was in their previous stop at the bigger and supposedly more “cultured” city of Thessalonica. How refreshing.
Why the difference? They spent time, face to face, in relationship, actually trying to understand what message was being communicated to them, and if that message was consistent with their authority.
For those Christians who arrive at different conclusions on political, theological, social issues, we can disagree without losing our tempers when we differ on interpretations. We don’t have to resort to “I’m right and you’re dumb and dangerous” type episodes. In fact, we won’t if we listen to each other and appeal to the same authority.
What about folks with differing authorities? If your ultimate authority is autonomous human reason, experience and feeling, majority opinion, karma, a different set of religious texts, then let’s that remember that we will inevitably end up with different conclusions as well. And that’s OK. It doesn’t have to become personal. We don’t have to label each other as dumb and dangerous simply because we appeal to different authorities. But let us recognize them and discussion might just become a bit easier.
Maybe Bradenton could model this Berean type discourse in our friendships? Maybe. But if we don’t, we’ll continue to fall back into our default mode of seeing those who differ as dumb and dangerous.
Pastor Geoff Henderson, at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theapostleGH. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Herald written by local clergy members.