How to win a Christian argument

Have you ever found yourself passionately believing something to be true, but unable to convince others of your truth?  Frustrating, isn’t it?  I have found that the frustration level dramatically increases when talking about faith issues. Faith convictions and beliefs tend to be sacred.  Changing or adjusting these beliefs is often seen as back-sliding or drifting from the truth.  Encountering people of faith who hold different positions while at the same time claiming to be “Christian” can be stressful.  Why can’t they read the bible correctly?

Right now the denomination I am part of is in a fierce debate about ordaining gay and lesbian persons.  There are entire churches and conferences talking about leaving the denomination.  From their perspective a clearly discernable line of sin has been crossed.  There is scripture to back this all up.

Equally as fascinating is the other side.  The church is finally figuring out that all people should be included in the full life of the church.  For them a clear line has also been crossed.  Interestingly it is in the exact opposite direction, the church is moving from sin to righteousness.  Like the other side they have scripture to back up their position.

What I have discovered in the various debates, discussions, and arguments I have been part of is the first person to say something like “Scripture clearly says…” wins the debate. To my embarrassment I need to own that I have used this tactic myself.

I think we use this tactic because as people of faith we desperately want Scripture to speak clearly to the big issues of the day.  I am just old enough to remember when people of faith were convinced that rock ‘n’ roll was Satan’s music, or when drums in church, drinking, and smoking.  I live in Colorado; currently there is a whole lot of conversation about marijuana.  Believe it or not Jesus never addressed the subject of legal pot.  What was he thinking?

Framing theological arguments in such a way that those who don’t agree with us are wrong is probably something people of faith need to avoid.  It embarrasses me that church leaders so quickly move to absolute positions.

Learning to live with difference, even when that difference is seen as sin by some, might just be a sign of Christian maturity.

Unity

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements.”   Have you ever wondered if unity is possible, especially among people of faith?  In my more cynical moments I wonder if the unity that emerged during the council at Jerusalem was a “one-off” event. Today the church seems to make more headlines for its theological division than for its ability to bring folks together.  The reasons for this fracturing are varied and move from humorous to sad.  There is an urban legend about a church that split over a painting in the baptistery that depicted Adam and Eve with belly buttons.  When I was in college I remember debating vigorously about the virgin birth and Jesus’ resurrection.  If someone was on the other side of my position I quickly moved to questioning their faith commitments.

In 2013 many faith battles are directly connected to sexuality.  As more and more churches rethink think their stances on the ordination and marriage of gays and lesbians the church seems less and less unified.  Some church leaders have even taken to starting new denominations over these disputes.

I realize that unity for the sake of unity makes no sense.  After all if everyone is unified in allowing something that is evil to occur then unity is only allowing a mass of folks to do and be wrong.  Unifying people of faith around unity only is pointless at best.

This does not change that Jesus’ final hope for people of faith was that they would be unified (read John 17).  My job provides me with many opportunities to work with both liberal and conservative believers.  If I am honest I see no quick faith fix to the sexuality battles.  Unity is still a possibility.  It will demand something people of faith often confuse with backsliding - compromise.

Like the leaders at the council of Jerusalem the church needs to become less concerned with burdening its membership with unnecessary requirements.  When Jesus was asked what was most important, his response was simple, concise, and profound.  For Jesus everything boiled down to love.  Anything we do as individuals or communities of faith that violates this rule moves all of us towards dis-unity.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “love God, love your neighbor, nothing else matters.”

Boxes

My job requires me to field all kinds of questions.  From the ridiculous, I remember receiving a call form a pastor inquiring if Denver had urban squalor; I am still not sure what “urban squalor” looks like.  To the soul searching, what is God calling me to?  And even the demanding, why? It is not often that I am caught off-guard.  Yesterday I was confronted with an unusually direct question.  So are you a liberal or a conservative?  At that moment I began to understand with new eyes what Jesus must have felt at the religious leaders attempted to back him into a corner by asking if he should pay taxes.

I do not think this person was intentionally trying to trap me, but I certainly felt boxed in.  And I don’t like boxes, they are limiting and confining and give me a sense of theological claustrophobia.

Now it is true that I was raised Mennonite Brethren (MB), and still claim them as my own.  It is also true that many MB’s would understand Southern Baptists to be their more “liberal” brothers and sisters.   Part of my faith struggle for the past 20 years has much to do with this tension between the faith of my youth and an unwillingness to be painted into a corner.

So, how did I respond?  I think I had one of those rare moments of insight.  You see I have come to a place where at least the contemporary ideals of liberal and conservative no longer have any appeal to me.  In the end both groups have people, or groups of people, who cannot belong.   The exclusion of people just doesn’t seem to be very Christ like.

The implications of rejecting liberal and conservative and seeking a third way of radical inclusion have the potential to alienate one from both sides of the church.  You see, radical inclusion means that the primary task of the church and the Christian faith is to find new creative ways to filter people in.   For too long, people of faith have hidden behind denominational distinctives and statements of faith as justifiable excuses for excluding those who are different.

Back to the question, am I liberal or conservative?  I choose “C,” none of the above.

Flip-flop

When did flip-flopping become such a negative thing?  It seems that being accused of flip-flopping, especially in the political field, has become the single most dangerous accusation that can be leveled against an opponent.  When did we start expecting our leaders to be so wise that they would never ever have to change their mind? The longer I live the more I become convinced that the key to wisdom has something to do with flip-flopping.  To be honest flip-flopping is not strength of mine, mostly because it is closely tied with admitting that I am wrong.  Apologizing requires humility, not my personal specialty.

In scripture flip-flopping is normative.  In Acts 9 we have the story of Saul, later re-named Paul, who is a passionate follower of God.  A new group of people is emerging. They call themselves “followers of the Way;” later on they are referred to as Christians.  This new group was threatening the established religious system.  So Saul gains permission from the religious leaders to fix the problem.  But on the road to Damascus Saul meets Jesus and has a flip-flopping experience.  He is won over to the Followers side and eventually writes the majority of the New Testament - all because he flip-flopped.

When church and political leaders refuse to flip-flop, they become something less than leaders.  It is silly to think that a person will never change their mind.  As a matter of fact, I would propose that a person’s unwillingness to change their mind is an indicator of things like immaturity, insensitivity and lack of compassion.  If someone claims to be a leader and isn’t willing to flip-flop then they have no business claiming to be a leader.

Next time someone is accused of flip-flopping, take a moment and thank God for that person!