I’m reading a book right now that’s making me angry. The subject matter is one of those “hot button” issues in Christianity right now, and the way I feel reminds me of a quote from a book I read back in college.
In Richard J. Mouw’s Uncommon Decency, he writes: “There they all stand, bumper-to-bumper, horns blaring: pro-lifers and pro-choicers; gay liberationists and defenders of the traditional family; husbands and wives facing each other in courts of law; artists and legislators, ‘politically correct’ intellectuals and crusading fundamentalists; warring ethnic groups in Eastern Europe; Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants; Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.” (see footnote)
It’s worth noting that Mouw wrote this book in 1992, and it’s still relevant today. I’m not sure if that makes me want to pat Mouw on the back, or weep, mourn and wail.
I’m trying to not get angry, but it’s hard. I’m on the opposite side of the issue from this book that I’m reading, and I really want to understand, even if I don’t agree. And I don’t even want to understand so that I can argue with this other side later. I want to understand just to understand.
Why would I want to understand at all, you might ask? Why not just be content with staying on the side you agree with, never venturing any further? There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) The position held by this book is the same position that the organization I work for supports. I greatly respect and love the organization that I work for, and as a leader in it, I must represent their position. This means that I must remain faithful to their position when the issue comes up, even though I may not agree with everything in their stance (And there are some points I agree with). I see where they’re coming from. How do I live faithfully when my view and the view held by my job are in a certain amount of conflict?
2) I don’t think it’s a very Christian posture to isolate oneself and one’s view in such an extreme manner. As followers of Jesus Christ, I believe we have a responsibility to engage the culture and views around us, even when it’s hard. Is it possible to hold a strong personal opinion while at the same time fairly engaging the opinions around us? Fair engagement does not mean that our only option is to get angry at the other side. Yes, there are time when anger and frustration is appropriate. But I think we far too often immediately default to those emotions instead of trying to find a third way–something distinct from siding with one side or the other. There must be a way to live faithfully in the midst of cultural tension.
There has to be a third way because evil cannot win. I firmly believe that when we argue and fight about these hot-button issues, Satan says, “Aha! I got them! I’ve got them so distracted by this issue that the reputation of the Gospel is tarnished, and they’re not really focusing on the Gospel at all. I win!”
This breaks my heart. More than the other side gets me angry, it breaks my heart that we, bearers of the Gospel, are sullying the Gospel and the Christ we represent. Satan has got us so distracted by these issues that we’ve completely forgotten the point of the Gospel: tell others that God yearns to live in relationship with the people God created. Invite them into that relationship which is made possible by the fact that Jesus has forgiven our sins–the barrier to that relationship with God. God is working to restore the world that has been broken by sin, and as forgiven ones, we are agents of that restoration. We get to work with God in bringing the Kingdom of God from heaven to earth. This is the Gospel. Not the hot-button issues we love to argue about.
Each side might tell me that the reason I feel so much tension is because I don’t believe fully in the authority of God’s Word, and I’m not following the whole of it faithfully. Let me be clear: I believe fully in the authority of Scripture, and I strive with every fiber of my being to not have a smorgasbord theology–picking and choosing what I like, what I agree with, and what’s convenient for me. All of Scripture has authority over my life–even the parts I don’t agree with.
I am convinced that each side would say that this is what they’re trying to do too–and yet we’re still on “opposite” sides. Somehow we have this idea that if we both believe in and live the authority of Scripture, we should all be on the same side of an issue. But maybe that’s not true. Maybe we can both believe fully in the Bible and live faithful lives, and still end up on “opposite” sides. This is why we need a third way–a way to love each other and proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel. Not our issues. In the midst of our varying opinions.
I don’t know what this third way is. I don’t know what it looks like. But I do know that it exists. Because I do know that God has called me to this ministry–whose purpose is spreading the Gospel. And that’s what I’m here for too.
What do you think? Is there a third way for Christians to live out the Gospel, live with their opinions, and live with each other? Is there a way to live faithfully even when we’re “agreeing to disagree”? Or is that wishy-washy? What should we do when we disagree?
footnote: Mouw, Richard J. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992, 10-11.