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.