Note: The pronouns 'we' and 'us' are used in reference to a collective body of folks who believe in Jesus. However, I do believe that parts of this post can be relevant to those outside the Christian faith.
A few days ago, a friend sent me a message; in it she wrote, "I don't know how to have faith anymore. I feel so angry at and hurt by religion and followers of it right now. I don't know how to reconcile my feelings and find a way to differentiate the Truth from what I feel drowned by."
I have a hunch that my friend isn't the only one who feels this way. 2016 has been a great big dumpster fire leaving many feeling exhausted, weepy, hoarse from screaming, and paralyzed. In this hell of a year, I've seen church-going, Jesus-loving people lose their cool and spew hateful words all in the name of trying to "spread truth." Speaking truth is one thing, but I tend to believe that truth should always be shared with love. But, what does this all mean?
First, I think it's becoming increasingly clear that we live in a post-truth society. We're inundated with fake news and we even have government officials who deny truths backed by science. This has even stretched into the church with Jen Hatmaker being attacked for her evolving views on gay marriage as many Evangelical believers shout at her for twisting truth.
I'm learning that I have to do more and more work to decipher fact from fiction lately. But when it comes to the Bible, I don't fact check it anymore--I take it as truth. However, I don't condemn fact checking of scripture; I actually think there is a time in many people's faith walk for fact checking scripture. For me, the Bible is truth, but that doesn't mean I understand everything in it. I don't have a theology degree, and I haven't studied Hebrew or Greek. I'm a Bible believing, Jesus loving Christian who still struggles to understand parts of scripture. And this is why I'm incredibly careful about having theological discussions with people. I don't want to misrepresent Jesus even more than I already do, and I don't want to alienate folks, either. I aim to speak truth in love, so here are some things I try to consider before engaging in conversations of theology:
What is the context of our conversation? In other words, what larger issues surround this theological issue? Sometimes I get so hung up on the surface level issue of a conversation that I neglect the bigger picture. Determining the issues that reside below the surface always helps me to understand the bigger picture to communicate truths more clearly and effectively. I also try to take into consideration my own biases keeping them and my emotions in check.
Where is this person at spiritually? I used to think that my job as a believer was to convert people to Christianity. I once interrupted a conversation in a college cafeteria to ask a person if they knew Jesus. I seriously did this, and it did not go well (#howembarrassing). If I had known about Nick Miller's panic moonwalk, I would've done it then.
The older I get, the more convinced I am that my job is not to convert people. I do have a responsibility to share the gospel message with folks, but I no longer interrupt conversations to be "salt and light." Instead, I try to form relationships with people first, meeting their immediate need for companionship. And even then, after a relationship is formed, I use discretion when engaging in theological discussions so as not to alienate anyone. I'm more interested in building bridges than in tearing down wrong truths. With this mindset, I've still been able to forge incredible relationships with people who don't have the same spiritual beliefs as me. These people are just as important in my life as those who share my beliefs because they push me to have a more three-dimensional view of the world.
How can I reach common ground with this person in order to have a productive conversation? When we find even one thing that we can agree on with another person, we open a path to dialogue. I tend to agree with my man Socrates about dialogue being the way to understand complex issues. Contrary to current communication trends, people can have civil conversations about contentious topics, but it takes work on the part of all people engaged. We've gotta be just as eager to listen to people as we are to share our own opinions. Actively listening to people is tough work, but when we do it, we're often able to connect with people who initially seem vastly different than us.
Speaking the truth in love is more than saying only kind things. It actually requires us to be thoughtful with how we proceed in sharing truth. I'm learning that tough theological conversations are best had face to face and over a shared meal so we can pay attention to the entire person. If you are a Jesus believing Christian, then you and I have a responsibility to speak truth in love. The world is watching and listening to us right now. Let's take care with how we represent the Jesus we love.