After eight years of splendid ministry at the church I attend, American Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa, our co-pastors, Mike and Elizabeth Hardeman, resigned to accept a call at another RCA church in Pella, Iowa. Verlyn Boone was then appointed as a transitional pastor, charged with the task of shepherding our congregation toward the appointment of a new pastor or pastoral team. To inform that search, Verlyn asked members of our congregation to envision “new beginnings” at our church. What follows is my dream for a new beginning, which I shared with the congregation on October 1, 2023
Pastor Verlyn has encouraged members of our church to envision possible “new beginnings” for our congregation. I have a really big dream for one such new beginning; a dream that some would say is impossible to realize.
My dream is that all of us at our church learn how to disagree lovingly and respectfully about our strong disagreements about some contentious issues, such as political affiliation and same-sex marriage; two issues about which I know we have some strong disagreements.
A major obstacle to the realization of my dream is to think that the purpose of talking to someone who disagrees with you is to WIN AN ARGUMENT.
That is all wrong because it immediately leads to combat; a verbal fight, guided by the false idea that for me to win, you have to lose.
In stark contrast, the best starting point is to is to acknowledge that we all believe we have good reasons for our beliefs about a contentious issue; reasons that generally reflect our personal experiences; our “personal life stories.”
Therefore, the purpose of talking to someone who disagrees with you should be to understand the contrary position taken by the other person and the reasons he/she has for holding to that position, as a starting point for seeking some common ground.
So, rather than prematurely deciding that the other person is “all wrong,” you should be willing to carefully listen. A good way to do that is to start with the following question:
John (or Mary), please help me to understand your position on this issue, and the reasons you have for your position.
The key word here is “understand” because a major shortcoming in our current polarized culture is lack of understanding of the other, which is aggravated by an almost complete absence of interest in understanding the other.
If you dare to ask that initial question, you may well find that the other person will return your gracious invitation, thinking something like “WOW! Harold really wants to understand my position and my reasons for holding my position. I should seek to better understand Harold’s position and his reasons for holding to his position.” You have then together taken the first step toward finding some common ground. This may be a marvelous example of the teaching in Proverbs 15:1 that “A soft answer turns away wrath,” but “A harsh word stirs up anger.”
Starting with that shared commitment to adequately understanding the opposing point of view is a Christian way of engaging someone who disagrees with you because God has called all his followers to love others and to give a person a SAFE AND WELCOMING SPACE to disagree with you is a deep expression of love.