To Prove a Point
In one sense, Conciliar Post exists because people disagree, and they disagree about really important stuff. If everyone were on the same page theologically and confessed all of the same things, this website would either be nonexistent or serving a very different purpose. You don’t have to look any further than the round table portions of Conciliar Post to see that there are actually very significant and fundamental differences among the beliefs of our community. Even though we are all united through our common confession of the Creeds and the broad title of Christianity, everyone involved in this project as a reader, writer, or editor holds a distinct position on the various tenets of the Christian faith from everyone else.
Differences in faith, personality, political opinion, and even sports preference can be found in any community or gathering. It doesn’t matter how much a group has in common, somewhere along the line, you could find something upon which they cannot all agree. One does not have to spend a great deal of time perusing Facebook, Twitter, or the comments section of YouTube to find very large groups of internet users engaged in passionate arguments over anything from police brutality to whether or not Call of Duty is better than Halo. Debate and dissent are not limited to the internet, though. Arguments can be found in the classroom, the workplace, the house, and even the congregation. Wherever one or two are gathered in the name of sports, there shall be rigorous debate.
Discussion driven by dissenting opinion is not, in and of itself, a terrible thing. Much benefit can be derived from debate and disagreement—this idea lies at the heart of Conciliar Post’s purpose. As a collective community of sinful human beings, not one of us has all the right answers; in fact, most of us probably have very few right answers. However, when we come together and exchange conflicting views, experiences, and confessions, we have the opportunity to learn from others and fine tune our own beliefs. Our differences and our varied ways of looking at the world around us are often a blessing, and they provide the opportunity for us to discover things we may never have found on our own.
Simultaneously, however, instead of stimulating personal growth and learning, disagreement frequently ends up driving people apart. Every day seems to bring a new controversy that lights my Facebook feed aflame with propaganda and derogatory remarks. People I typically consider to be friendly and courteous will become frighteningly hostile when particular buttons are pushed.
Currently, there is a controversial debate surrounding the use of vaccines that keeps surfacing. The Crusades, abortion, and gun rights have also been hot topics over the last few weeks. This last fall the events in Ferguson and issues of Police Brutality were the triggers for heated argument. Whenever these topics, and topics like them, end up rising to the surface of public awareness, I see individuals emerge on both ends of the spectrum with their torches burning and their pitchforks raised above their heads. A kind of bloodlust seems to grip society in a passionate stranglehold—to the point where, if you get involved at all, you are forced into one extreme or the other.
Issues of politics and religion are certainly important, and I am by no means suggesting that people should be apathetic when it comes to these discussions. When atrocities like abortion are legalized and allowed to run rampant, there should be a public outcry and people should make their vehement opposition known. At the same time, there is a very important question that anyone getting involved in these debates should keep in mind: “What is the point?”
Whenever you speak or write, you should be asking yourself what it is you hope to accomplish with your words. There are numerous Biblical passages that direct us to the importance and power of words, and it was by the Word of God that all things were made. Passages like “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36 NASB) and “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB) admonish us to speak with a purpose for the sake of benefiting, or building up, those around us. As a result, when we take up the mantle or take a stand on a soapbox for the sake of an important cause, it is crucial that we understand what it is we are really trying to accomplish with the words we use.
Far too often our goal in debate seems to be focused on “winning” or coming out on top of the discussion. We want to have made the best argument, produced the most supporting evidence, and delegitimize what the other side has to say to the greatest extent possible. Instead of worrying about what the other party in the discussion thinks or feels, we start obsessing about whether or not we are the clear winners of the argument. How well did we represent our side? Did we push hard enough? Did we leave any doubt about whether or not we actually stand behind what we said? Is there any way a reasonable person could still agree with the opposition?
These are the questions that seem to take priority in our minds when the conversation starts to heat up and controversy is inserted into the equation; but are they really the kinds of questions we, as Christians, should be asking ourselves? Again, what is the point of these debates?
To begin with, we should take comfort in the fact that what is true will continue to be true regardless of how the arguments and controversies of the world shake out. What is morally acceptable and theologically correct is based on the unwavering and eternal truth of God, not on the opinion of man. That which is good, true, just, and beautiful depends only on God; because of this, we need not fear that the fate of the universe hinges upon our ability to justify or condemn the use of vaccines. There is no need for us to be concerned about the possibility abortion’s morality suddenly shifting one way or another with the general public’s opinion. Whether or not police brutality is actually an issue has nothing to do with how the conversation plays out in the comments section of our social media sites.
In light of the above reasons, we should be able to cross “being right” off the list of priorities when it comes our disagreements with others. If we are really right, we are right independent of that conversation, and if we are wrong, then we actually don’t want to try to prove ourselves otherwise! Personally, it is very difficult for me to let go of the idea that I do not always need to come out ahead in every argument, rather, I should be spending the entire course of the discussion looking for flaws in my position so I might correct them if they surface.
I propose that the real purpose, or point to any debate should be to try to help the opposing side. We should not view those with differing faiths or political beliefs as if they were an enemy to be conquered and defeated. Instead, we should approach them in hopes of benefiting them and helping them understand their error. It might sound patronizing, but if someone genuinely believes something that is theologically incorrect or holds a flawed political position, they are the ones at risk. We do not need to fear for the truth, but we do need to be concerned for those who reject it.
When we engage others in debate about anything, we should not barge in with guns blazing and a battle cry on our lips. Particularly when we are dealing with our brothers and sisters in Christ, people who share our faith and confession.Our goal should always be to pursue that which is true, beautiful, and just—and to help others in that pursuit as well. If you want other people to believe what you believe and take up the same confession, do not alienate them through belittling or derogatory remarks.
Martin Luther, in his small catechism, asks for each of the Ten Commandments the question: “What does this mean?” For the Eighth Commandment, his response to that question is: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”1 We have a God given duty, not just to refrain from spreading lies about our neighbor, but to speak well of those around us and to engage them in a respectful, loving, and courteous manner.
In matters of faith and politics, we should hold fast to our beliefs and take a stand for what is right, but there are ways to do that while remaining humble, recognizing that the people who disagree with you are still the children of God. We want all people to believe what is true and good. Even if that is an impossible dream, people will respond more favorably to an open hand than a clenched fist.
None of us are perfect, none of us are anywhere close to perfect—I frequently fall short of the very standards I am laying out here. In our weakness, though, we can strive to continually ask ourselves what it is we hope to accomplish. What is the point of Conciliar Post? What is the point of speaking your mind and taking a stand? The point is to love your neighbor as yourself and to share the truth that needs no defending.
“Keep me from saying words that later need recalling. Guard me lest idle speech may from my lips be falling. But when within my place, I must and ought to speak then to my words give grace lest I offend the weak.”2