Joining the Conversation: A Letter to My Son

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Hurting human beings are involved on every side of every issue, which means there is no room for cruelty, thoughtlessness, carelessness, or pride in the conversation.

Dear Son:

Turn on the TV, open your computer, or visit your local establishment. Pretty much anywhere there are people, it won’t take you long to find conversations unfolding about controversial topics.

“What do you think about immigration?” Or “What’s your view on homosexuality?”

These conversations in particular (among others) are in the spotlight almost daily—and everyone seems to have an opinion. But before you jump into the dialog, I want to suggest nine requirements that must be true before you speak—or rather, nine red flags: sure signs that you are not ready to join the conversation.

1. If you’re joining a discussion out of a motivation to “win,” then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.

2. If all your thoughts can be summarized in 140 characters or fewer, then you’re probably not ready to be part of the conversation.

3. If you’re comfortable only listening to one side of the argument, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.

4. If you think you have an easy or simple solution to a complex issue, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.

5. If you are quick to speak but slow to listen, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation (check out James 1).

6. If you haven’t yet considered whether your opinion could possibly be wrong, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.

7. If your heart is not burdened to the point of sacrificial action on behalf of those to whom the “issue” relates, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.

8. If you haven’t yet empathized with multiple perspectives on a given issue or put yourself in the opposing side’s shoes, then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation.

9. If you don’t yet have love for your enemies or you haven’t yet taken the time to pray for those of an opposing viewpoint—and not just for them to change their minds—then you’re not ready to be part of the conversation (Matt. 5).

And then if, after satisfying all nine requirements, you still hold the same perspective, great. Wonderful. To be clear, my intention in inviting you to consider these warnings isn’t to change your beliefs or opinions. Rather, it’s to ensure that any conviction you might have is rooted in compassion (John 8:1-11). It is important to remember that you can have a “correct opinion” or a “right stance,” but without the humble posture of a servant you will be wrong every time. Christ emptied himself and came to his enemies as a servant (Phil. 2; Rom. 5); do not think you are above doing the same.

Do I have thoughts on immigration policy or on the topic of homosexuality? Yes, I do. Are my beliefs simple enough to boil down to a mere “for” or “against,” or a slogan on a bumper sticker? I’m afraid not.

I’ve discovered that the debate on homosexuality suddenly becomes just a little more complex when you’re sitting across from a mother whose son took his own life after begging God for years to change the way he feels. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the words of a woman I once met: “One night it was raining, and I couldn’t find him [her son] anywhere. Finally I found him lying in the soccer field behind our house, sobbing uncontrollably because he felt stuck and didn’t know what to do.”

And immigration becomes more than an “issue” when you consider what kind of conditions could make a mother so desperate that she would send her child a thousand miles on top of a truck or across a dangerous desert just to find a new place to live.

And while many have pointed out that the emotional appeal of an issue doesn’t dictate whether something is right or wrong, the human element can, and must, influence our posture as we seek and teach truth, knowing that human beings are involved. It might not always change what we believe, but it has to change how we think about and treat people. If these conversations truly are attempts to get closer to the truth, then we would do well to remember that Truth is a person, a being. When Jesus said, “I am the Truth,” he made it relational; he made it personal.

We live in a broken world, and everyone hurts. Things have gotten messy on political levels, social levels, and personal levels—and we’re sitting in the middle of it. We are all called to repent. We are all in need of grace. No one is completely right except Christ, and his company cannot be joined without great humility and grace.

Hurting human beings are involved on every side of every issue, which means there is no room for cruelty, thoughtlessness, carelessness, or pride in the conversation. On the contrary, these discussions need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and so must be founded in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5).

All opinions, judgments, or decisions from the church relating to homosexuality must come from Christ’s own Body lying in the grass next to the young man sobbing in the rain. Every opinion, judgment, or decision from any other place will most certainly be the wrong one. And all opinions, judgments, or decisions regarding immigration must come from Christ’s own Body—the ultimate refugee—who knows what it is to be mocked, protested against, rejected, spat upon, and exiled to a cross. Every opinion, judgment, or decision from any other place will most certainly be the wrong one. Yes, we will talk, and we will debate, and we will go to the Bible, but our stance must become and remain prostrate.

And after we prayerfully discern what is permissible and what isn’t, what is pursuable and what isn’t, what is acceptable and what isn’t, we must never forget that it is the duty of the church to shoulder the load, whatever it may be, alongside those who are called to walk with Christ (Matt. 23). So if you’re not ready to carry another’s burden, you’re most certainly not ready to join the conversation.

Love,
Dad

About the Author

Granger Lee lives in West Michigan where he teaches high school and is a part of a close-knit CRC community.

See comments (7)

Comments

Looks to me likeyou don't really want anyone to enter the debates on immigration or homosexuality, although I can appreciate your sentiment.  But not realistic.

Which of the 9 are unrealistic?

I appreciate this article.
I find that the more I know how much God loves me and who I am in Him the more I love others; and the less I need to prove myself and to 'win' discussions.
A gift you can give someone is to let them talk so that they and you listen can listen to  what they are saying. There are many ways you might respond but always included is  caring about them more than the discussion.

In a world gone wild with angry rhetoric, dubious accusations, public shamings, and bitter rants, I thank you for this. As you say, the conversation changes totally when issues hit home. Thank you for a biblical response to those who simply want to out-shout you.

I should have added that there are many times when I realize that I am not able at that moment to have a caring discussion and so I remain silent. :)

It seems to me that what is being argued here is that personal experience is required to inform our moral judgement on homosexuality. And if someone does not know the struggles of an individual with same-sex attraction, or is not able to identify with their struggles, there is no ability to make a sound judgement on this issue, let alone permission to join the conversation.
           Hearing the struggles of those who identify as gay, or those with same-sex attraction can no doubt inform us in how to respond with compassion, and equip us with empathy; we should seek to continue that conversation. But when it comes to making a moral judgment, why is it that this author continues to place the emphasis on personal experience interpreting that judgement? Wouldn’t the more biblical worldview be that it is God through his word that has the authority to interpret our personal experience?
           As followers of Christ, we agree that any opinion not offered in love, grace and compassion is most certainly wrong. But just as importantly, any opinion, judgement or decision from any other place that contradicts the biblical teaching on sexuality will also, most certainly, be the wrong one.

Hi Anothy,

It seems to me that the author takes your thought into consideration when he says, "while many have pointed out that the emotional appeal of an argument doesn't dictate whether something is right or wrong, the human element can, and must, influence our posture...It might not always change what we believe, but it has to change how we think about and treat people."  

He agrees with you that putting a human face on an issue doesn't automatically change our convictions on any given topic, but it must inform our posture.  In other words, it should shape how we interact with those directly involved--our tones and attitudes--understanding that all people are hurting human beings.  I would imagine the author doesn't over-empasize the seeking of biblical teaching since that is the voice that is heard loudest in some Chrisitan circles already, while the call to gentleness and humilty isn't always.  Does that make sense? 

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