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.

The Price

Last week I had the opportunity to observe an evening reflection session at DOOR.  There were 40 youth and adults in the room.  The session was led by Mari the local board chair and a Latina.  I have known her for a little over 16 years during which she has led reflection sessions for visiting groups.  Mari likes to talk about stereotypes, specifically the labels folks have about Latino, Latina and Hispanic people. It had been quite a while, over a decade, since I had observed one of these sessions.

Mari started the evening by assuring the group that this was going to be a safe space.  She encouraged them to be brutally honest and opened a space for them to ask any questions, both appropriate and inappropriate, they might have.  At this point my interest was grabbed.  What was going to be said?

The next step was to divide the group into teams of 3-4 people.  She handed out large sheets of paper and markers.  The assignment was to write down all the words and phrases that came to mind when they thought of Hispanic, Latino or Latina.  For 10 minutes there was a buzz in the room as everyone began to contribute ideas and the sheets of paper filled with words.  I could hardly wait for the reporting back to begin.

Then it began.  Some of the words were positive – family values, good food, salsa (both dip and dance), and passionate.  Other words were more neutral – brown hair, short and Spanish speaking.  Then there were the references to famous people – Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, George Lopez, and Selena.  In the midst of all of this there were a lot of words and phrases that could be described as hurtful- illegal, lazy, wet-back, and the list could go on, but I am choosing to stop.

Throughout the entire time Mari listened, received what people said and never reacted negatively.  My interest shifted from interested to wonderment.  This wasn’t the first time Mari had led this session.  I do not think she could count how many times she has led groups through this exercise over the past 16 years.  Allowing them to express their stereotypes and then gently letting them know that Hispanic, Latino and Latina people are humans created in the very image of God.

Last week I was reminded that sometimes I ask staff, board members and volunteers to do some very difficult things.  Helping people to see beyond their privilege, gender, race and economic status is a calling, a difficult calling.  I am so thankful for people like Mari who find the strength to help people like me understand the breadth and depth of the Kingdom of God.


Last Friday my wife and I went on a date.  We decided to take in the remake of Footloose.”  I remembered seeing the original and enjoying it; we had both heard good things about this latest version.  The story takes place in the South a few years after five teens are killed in a car crash.  The crash is blamed on dancing.  The reaction to all this is that the town leaders, led by a local preacher, ban dancing.  From their perspective dancing led to drinking, sex and reckless driving and all of this resulted in five dead teens. The movie tells the story of a boy who has just moved to town, a rebellious preacher’s daughter and their “need” to dance.

About half way through the movie it dawns on me that I grew up in a church where dancing was wrong.  According to my mother, dancing led to sex. Since I was the preacher’s kid Satan was trying extra hard to entice me into dancing sex.  I never went to a dance until my senior year of high school. By then I was so afraid of dancing sex that I refused to get out on the dance floor.

This year my wife and I celebrated 25 years of marriage.  I still don’t dance.  After years of worrying about dancing sex I am now afraid of embarrassing myself.

What is the point of all this?

I missed out on a lot of fun by not being able to go to school dances.  The family and church reasons for not going – the dance sex – only served to give me an unhealthy view of sex, my body and the opposite sex.  In many ways I am still working through consequences of living in that paranoia and fear.

I am not sure that the Christian faith was meant to be lived in fear.  In my youth it was dancing and what that might lead to.  Today there seem to be a lot of Christians who are afraid of anything that sits outside their particular world view – liberals, conservatives, Muslims, immigrants, socialists, and the list could on.

What would happen if instead of condemning the unfamiliar and different we start with the assumption that our ideas and perspectives might be wrong?