I’ll be the first to admit it: Sometimes, I get a little heated when I’m debating my beliefs online. When it comes to standing up for the things I believe in, I’m a fierce opponent. I dig in my heals, I cite my sources, and I don’t give an inch. Not. Ever.
And sometimes, I find myself humbled. If not proven wrong in my positions (I rarely yield this), I am often shown the error of my methods. Did I have to be that sarcastic? Could I have said that in a way that was a little less condescending? Is being right in this Facebook argument really more important than being kind? Did I just resort to the type of childish and hurtful reasoning that I claim to oppose?
I’m noticing this more and more in online conversations these days. Tensions are high. People are angry. Our politics are more divisive than ever.
And I’ve noticed it in online conversations among members of the Church of the Brethren. Tensions are high here, too, on same-sex marriage and a host of other issues. Suddenly, proving our version of the truth has taken precedence over unity as a body and loving decorum towards one another.
Of course, it’s understandable why tensions are so high.
On one side of the marriage debate, people are arguing for strict adherence to what they view as clear scriptural guidance that marriage be between and man and a woman. Moreover, they’re seeking to protect a sacred tradition that has enriched their lives and brought them closer to God.
On the other side, people argue that the spirit of scripture bends towards inclusion, justice, and radical love. They hold that Christ’s law of love trumps the Church’s law of rules and tradition. They see Christ’s call for compassion as clear guidance that the time is now to accept and affirm everyone as God created them. They know members of the LGBT community, or are themselves members of that community, and they view opposition to marriage equality and other rights as discrimination and oppression. Moreover, they, too value the sacred nature of marriage, and they can’t countenance depriving anyone of the way marriage enriches life and brings us closer to God.
I’ve made it explicitly clear on which side I stand, even if I might regret being so blistering.
As I observe the arguments in the church surrounding this issue and many others, I’ve reflected a lot of Matthew 5:43-48, Christ’s reasoning for why we must love our enemies:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NRSV)
It is painful to use the language of “enemies,” to discuss conversations on social media between me and my friends and family or among brothers and sisters of the Church of the Brethren. But, sad as it is, it doesn’t quite seem inappropriate. Perhaps our first step towards healing is simply to resist viewing those with whom we disagree as enemies.
But whether or not we choose the word “enemy” to describe the person on the other end of the argument or some other word (adversary, opponent, etc.), the point of this passage remains the same: it is easy to love those with whom we agree, but often painfully difficult to love those with whom we disagree.
I want to be a whole lot better at remembering to love the person on the other end of my digital arguments. I must remember that God loves that other person just as much as God loves me. I must bear in mind what Jesus said in Matthew 25: “Just as you treated your arch-nemesis on Facebook in that comment thread about Donald Trump, that is how you treated me.”
This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop advocating my beliefs. I will never stop trying to make the Church of the Brethren more open, affirming, and inclusive to members of the LGBT community, including by allowing same-sex marriages. I will never back down from a challenge to my beliefs about this or any other issue.
But I’m also going to do this: I want to have more personal conversations and relationships with those with whom I disagree. I’m going to resist the urge to flee to my corner and surround myself only with those who agree with me. And I invite you to do the same. Here’s some suggestions for how to get started:
- Find a pen pal on the other side of the aisle and make a point to correspond with them regularly.
- Pray for someone with whom you disagree (and not just that they’ll change their mind).
- Ask that someone to pray for you.
- Read your own Facebook comments critically. Ask, “Is this how I would want someone to speak to me?”
Maybe you already do these things. If so, good for you! But I think we can all use a reminder right now before we head to what is sure to be a particularly divisive Annual Conference. This year, rather than putting on your battle armour, gird yourself instead. In the end, I believe that we change a lot more hearts and minds by washing one another’s feet than by hurting each other online.
Emmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.
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