Matney: A vaccine for the vitriol-virus
In addition to the coronavirus, there seems to be a “vitriol-virus” of intolerance, hatred, personal attacks, and meanness infecting our world. I’m interested in finding a vaccine for this, and I’m sure you are too.
In the book, “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations,” the authors, one a conservative and the other a liberal, tell how they have blogged, worked and wrote together since 2015. They write, “There is a way to engage with respect and empathy. There is a way to give grace and be vulnerable …. There is a way to engage with each other that could lead to consensus and solutions, innovation and improvements.”
So, how can we lower the temperature of our disagreements on the hot-button issues of our day? I believe the love of God and the teachings of Jesus is the vaccine we need to cool the fever of hatred in our world. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I want to learn how to apply this wisdom in the debates of our day.
For example, I’m certainly not an expert on COVID-19, but I do want to be an expert on how to navigate the differences of opinions about it with love and respect for everyone, regardless of which side of the aisle or issue they are on. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
I want to be an expert in showing gentleness and respect to all people, even when we disagree, and I want to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. The apostle Paul wrote numerous verses of scripture telling us how. He wrote in Ephesian 4:2, 15, “Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Speak the truth in love.”
Sadly, it is too easy to be sucked into emotional quicksand, rather than speaking in love. “You are yelling so loud I can’t hear you.” Thankfully, God is wanting to help us avoid those hot-headed, emotional whirlpools that suck us into Satan’s cesspool.
Paul also wrote in Romans 14:13 and 19 and Colossians 3:12: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
So, how can we practice these teachings of scripture for respectful dialogue? Although I don’t always succeed, here are practices I try to follow:
- Don’t judge — I don’t know what the other person is going through.
- Use bridge-building dialogue — “I appreciate your courage, even if I don’t agree with your conclusions.” Or, “I don’t agree with your conclusions, but I sure like you.” Or, “I honor your anger; it means you care deeply about this issue.”
- Compassion — I’ve been in error, angry, rebellious and sinful and I need to extend love, acceptance and forgiveness to others as God has done for me.
- Teachable — I don’t know everything and I can be wrong.
- Speak gently — We need to watch the tone of our voice. Even if righteous anger is called for, remember Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and sin not. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- Sincere compliments –—Sincerely compliment people before correcting or disagreeing with them. We see this in Revelations in Jesus’ Letters to the Seven Churches. Jesus commended them as well as corrected them.
- Ask myself — “How would I treat my children and other family members, and then extend that love and respect to those disagreeing with me.
- Patience — God isn’t finished. He is still working for our good.
The Better Arguments Project gives five rules for respectful discussions: Take winning off the table, prioritize relationships and listen passionately, pay attention to context, embrace vulnerability, and make room to transform.
The group’s goal is to help people regain civility, emotional intelligence, better listening skills, cultural understanding, courage and transformation in how we debate. I would add, “Then, when we’ve learned to really listen and learned to talk civilly, we’ll have a better chance of finding solutions to the challenges of our day.”
Romans 12:18 summarizes it all this way: If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. That doesn’t mean compromise your convictions but it does mean don’t be an antagonist. Be a peacemaker.
Dan Matney is the pastor at New Life Assembly of God in Avon. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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