What is it about humans that makes us want to polarise? Is it because we secretly like conflict – perhaps something left over from our cave-dwelling kill-or-be-eaten past? Maybe it’s because we want to know who’s on our side, and by definition who isn’t?
If you listen to interviews on the radio phone-ins they always seem to try to find two people who have opposing views on the topic to argue against one another. I remember a while ago listening to a debate about whether or not (and there’s a clue in that part of the ‘discussion’) it is right to teach young people about sex or teach them about abstinence from sex before marriage. I was really unhappy with the way it was set up, especially as it seemed to be an opportunity for church-bashing, so I phoned in. I wanted to point out that it’s perfectly possible to teach young people about all aspects of sex, including the emotional ones, even if you hold a view that abstaining from sex before marriage is most beneficial. Sadly I didn’t get on to make that point and the show continued with the polarised debate.
You can take almost any significant issue (and many trivial ones) and polarise opinions on them. For example, do you like Marmite? The answers you would be offered would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. However it’s possible that some people like Marmite in some circumstances (on their toast in the morning) but not in others (in sandwiches with bananas and anchovies)*.
It grieves me to say that Christians are some of the best at polarising. We seem to relish an ‘yes or no’ approach to almost any issue, usually coupled with an inference or implication that if you disagree with me (and I can back it up by some reference to the Bible) then you are a heretic and should be subjected to some of the worst aspects of the Spanish Inquisition (you didn’t expect that). I may be overstating things for comedic effect, but I hope you get my point.
I could put a post on social media about any of 20 different subjects on which Christians disagree and I am fairly confident that quickly a discussion thread would follow that quickly degenerated into a polarised argument. Today is 31 October. That is a date which polarises Christians, doesn’t it.
On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther, a disaffected priest, nailed a piece of paper containing 95 radical opinions about church practice onto the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That simple act is seen as the spark that lit the touchpaper of the Protestant Reformation.
What? You didn’t think I meant Luther’s 95 theses? You thought I was referring to Halloween? Ah, well, if I was writing about Halloween some of you might start picking up virtual stones to lob in my direction while others of you might start a virtual fan club. So I am not going to.
Instead I am going to suggest that there is another way. It is the way of dialogue instead of debate. It is the way of seeking common ground rather than focussing on what we disagree about. It is the way of affirmation and blessing, not devaluing and condemnation. I believe it is the way of Jesus. He had a lot of controversial things to say. He disagreed with a lot of people. In the end some of them were so incensed that they contrived to arrange his crucifixion.
But to most people he offered welcome and inclusion rather than division and exclusion. He seems to have gone out of his way to mix with the ‘wrong sort of people’. The only times (and Christians should be aware and beware) that he had harsh words to say to people was to the religious people who excluded people from society and from an encounter with God by their words and actions.
“Ah, yes,” some of you may be saying, “But didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 10:‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”’?”**
Yup. That’s what it says. But he was not talking about doctrinal differences or ethical conundrums or what to celebrate on 31 October. He was talking about the cost of following him and for some people that would mean that their family turned against them.
So, whatever issues you have with someone else if you disagree with them disagree well.
Perhaps we should pay more attention to the One who said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ and less to those who want to have a heated debate.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*I don’t like Marmite (under any circumstances) and would not recommend trying Marmite, banana and anchovy sandwiches unless they prove to be a gourmet delight, in which case you heard it hear first! However, despite my lack of desire to consume the brewing by-product I don’t have a beef with those who do (see what I did there?)
**I think I got the punctuation right