As a society, we are in serious trouble.
I’m not sure what direction you might expect this follow up sentence to take. Why are we in serious trouble in our society? Is it because of issues like poverty and disease? Is it regarding the increase in unwed and teenage mothers? Homosexuality and same sex marriage? Abortion? Global warming? The increasing role of government in our lives? The successes of the “other” political party? The rise in influence of other religions? Our changing sense of morality?
All of the above, and none of the above.
We are in serious trouble because we have forgotten how to talk to one another. We have forgotten how to have a civil conversation with people who disagree with us and have a different worldview than our own. You see this in our government, you see it in our public discourse, and you see in the way we live out our faith. We have become an extremely polarized people. We no longer know how to talk to people who see things differently than we do and have a different ideology than we have.
One of the surest signs of our current state of affairs is our quick propensity to caricature and ridicule those who disagree with us. You caricature someone when you represent them to someone else in a way that they would never represent themselves. You ridicule them when you oversimplify their point of view and denigrate their intelligence. We have become quick to mock. We have become slow to listen, slower yet to understand.
One of the basic truths of human nature is that we tend to fear what we don’t know. It’s a way we have learned to cope with our insecurities. Mock someone long enough and you don’t have to bother to get to know them. Don’t get to know them and you can become comfortable in your ignorance.
Was this the plan? As people who are called to love others, are we as believers ever given this option? Are we to live in fear of those who disagree with us? Did Jesus ever do this? Are we ever called by Christ to live lives defined by disrespect for and judgment upon others?
In the book of James, Jesus followers are admonished with these words:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19-20
What exactly does that mean? Let me suggest that instead of being judgmental and disrespectful of those who see life differently than you do, you should lean toward becoming students of their views long before you see yourself as a teacher of yours.
Why have we become so afraid to listen? So afraid to learn? So afraid of seeking to understand before seeking to be understood?
What difference would it make if Christians genuinely engaged in conversation with people who have different values than we do, or have reached different conclusions about life (whatever those are)? What would happen if we actually dialogued (cordially) with those who have a different view of marriage, or of when life begins, or believe the world evolved without the need of a creator? What difference would a kind and compassionate conversation make in the life of a young girl who finds herself pregnant, unmarried and afraid? Or getting to know that young person we work with who is a Muslim? Or the family on our street that is Mormon?
It seems to me that Christians were put here to build bridges into our society, not to erect walls around our churches. As I read the Bible, it seems believers were put here to integrate into our society, not to isolate ourselves from it. Walls keep others out and protect us by keeping us safe and secure inside. Was this Christ’s plan for the church? No!
The root idea of communication is bridge building. Bridges link one side of an issue with the opposite side—a safe way to move from one side to the other. Bridges are a wonderful way to make the act of progressing easier and safer.
Oh yeah… head’s up – bridges get walked on. That’s what bridges are for. They are there for support. Are we helping people find their way to Jesus or is our behavior just keeping them out?