My friend Max used to work at a small kitchen supply store that hardly had any business, so I would often visit him. He’s a very smart guy who has a lot of well thought out ideas about politics, art, and life. I may not always agree with him, but I’m always fascinated to hear what he has to say. I always end up thinking about things I had never thought of before.
One afternoon while we were chatting, the cleaning lady came in to pick up a key. Before she left she mentioned to us that she was having trouble finding a second job for the summer. “It’s because all the good jobs are going towards those daggone Mexicans,” she said.
“Well,” Max said, “if you’re living in extreme poverty, wouldn’t you take any job you can to feed your family?”
“But I pay my taxes,” stated the cleaning lady. “I can’t get a break like these Mexicans who are sneaking over here and stealing our jobs.” The debate went on like this until it started getting personal. At one point the cleaning lady accused Max’s construction worker father of hiring illegal immigrants. Max calmly tried to explain that, since his dad was just a foreman, he had no say in the hiring process. The cleaning lady just rolled her eyes as if Max was talking nonsense. After what felt like an hour, the cleaning lady finally left. Max could not have been happier.
I don’t want to start any debates about immigration. I mention this only because it reminds me of how much people want to prove that they are right, and everyone else is wrong.
Perhaps it comes from the natural drive for self-preservation. As you might remember from biology, all creatures have a “fight-or-flight” mechanism to help defend themselves against threats in nature. When danger arises—a hungry tiger comes looking for dinner, for example—the animal will puff up and get ready to either fight or run away. Without this natural trait, defeat would be all too easy.
But modern man, in his comfortable suburban existence, doesn’t really have as much to worry about as wild animals. We still face threats, of course: neighborhood violence, robbers, and overdevelopment, to name just a few. But nothing as immediate and threatening as, say, a jaguar about to eat you up. So what do we do with this natural self-defense mechanism? Use it for other situations, like debates.
We humans like to define ourselves by our beliefs. Whether they are political, religious, or social, our beliefs shape our personality and view of the world. When some one challenges our beliefs, everything that defines who we are is threatened, so that’s when the old fight-or-flight kicks in.
Nowhere have I seen this more than in online Christian forums. When I first became a Christian, I was excited to learn from fellow believers all over the web, and share my walk with them. Over the years, however, I’ve been seeing more and more arguments, debates, and name-calling. It’s either one side accusing another of being “fundamentalist Pharisees,” or some one being called a “liberal heathen.” And I, unfortunately, have participated in such arguments. So much for One God, One Faith, One Baptism.
I remember one person in particular, who used to frequent a Christian community on Livejournal. Her posts were always of the fundamentalist persuasion; she claimed that gays were ruining families, Democrats were enemies of God, and the Catholic Church distorted the Gospels. Whenever some one disagreed with her, she accused them of not reading their Bible enough, or being “liberal heathens.” This was a person who was not happy until she had proven that she was right, and everyone else was wrong. (This is also some one who recently wrote a blog entry suggesting that Barack Obama might be the Antichrist.)
And then of course there's the whole "Farewell Rob Bell" thing. I haven't read Love Wins yet (although my Something Beautiful co-host Thomas just sent me a digital version of the book for my brand new Kindle), but I couldn't believe that John Piper would just so flippantly write off Bell on Twitter. Whether or not you agree with Bell, he brings up a good question, one that I think the Church should talk about it. Unfortunately, it's been less of a conversation and more of a theological shouting match. I guess love doesn't really win after all.
Which brings me to this question: is all this arguing really worth it? Are we really teaching and correcting one another, or are we just tearing each other apart? The Bible says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV) I don’t know about you, but to me arguing and name-calling are not very helpful.
All of us come from different backgrounds and experiences. What if we took the time to hear each other’s stories to see where we all come from? To really serve some one, sometimes you have to put yourself in their proverbial shoes. In 1st Corinthians Paul writes, “To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so as to win those under the law.” (9:20, NIV) We don’t have to agree with each other, of course, but we can definitely understand each other better. The more we get to know each other, the better we can serve one another.
I pray for a great sense of unity within the Body of Christ. May we realize that we are all learning how all of this works, and that no one is perfect. And I’m praying for myself as much as I am praying for the Church.