Don’t just "understand" the other side, EMPATHIZE.

I have half a dozen or so documents in my laptop right now of “potential blogposts” of different rants and ramblings about politics; from Chick-Fil-A to the ability for a Christian to vote different political parties to my stance on gay marriage, I have been wanting to speak out for a while now.  But I have held back.  Why?  Because there are others who can say it better.  Because I’m no expert.  Because I’m still learning.

That is what I want to emphasize today in my all-encompassing post on politics, ethics, and anything else that seems to matter these days.  I am extremely irritated with the election, as both “sides” of the United States are exposing their dirty ignorance and disregard for people who do not agree with them.  It is this mentality of, “If a person does not agree with my political stance, which is the only way, then their entire character must be attacked publicly.”  One day I posted on Facebook, “I think it says a lot about President Obama’s character for him to visit Joplin a year after the tornado came through.”  I wasn’t making a political statement, just a statement of appreciation for the remembrance of a small town near me that had been devastated by a storm.  One parent of one of my youth wrote, “I think we should all worry about Heather’s character.”  Then a full-fledged debate began on my status about gay marriage, Obama being a dirty Muslim from Kenya, etc.  One of my friends wrote, “Shame on all of you.  This status wasn’t about any of that.”  And it wasn’t, but to many Christian brothers and sisters that I respect, a politician that they don’t agree with can’t have any redeeming qualities.

I think it’s extremely dangerous to claim to hold absolute knowledge of any subject.  I’m sure some of you are shocked, as I am a Christian and you probably are too; how can I say that I don’t know undoubtedly that God exists?  Simply, if I knew it wouldn’t be called faith.  I know it in my heart, but empirically I do not know that.  I’m not a skeptic, and I’m not saying that if I don’t know things, that I can’t express my opinions on them; in fact my faith in God precedes all other faiths I have and consequentially demands me to express that faith.  The point I’m trying to make is:  It is extremely important to be empathetic to opinions that differ from your own, for you do not know your opinions to be fact.  In fact, it becomes dangerous when you claim to know it all and aren’t empathetic.

Why?  Because once you claim to hold the key to knowledge on a particular subject, you get arrogant.  You push people away from you with your words and your attitude.  For example:  Those Christians who are outspoken about gay marriage push people who agree with it away; it scars the LGBTQQ community and its allies and pushes people away from the Christ who ate meals with prostitutes, tax collectors, and the self-righteous.  Christians (and everyone else) definitely have the right to discuss their opinions and alleged knowledge on a subject; but if we aren’t empathetic of the other side, we can and will push them away.  I took some time trying to understand the LGBTQQ community a few years ago when a group came to my conservative Christian university to speak out against our allegedly persecuting contract that we had to sign in order to be a student there.  Instead of pushing my doctrine, I took the time to listen; a time of learning and growth.  Once I heard the stories of how they’ve been treated by people inside the Church, I began to understand that it’s not necessarily my place to indoctrinate a homosexual upon meeting them (and that’s just the beginning of that journey).  It went without being said what I believed.  I spent time trying to be empathetic, not with the sole goal of strengthening my argument, but because there were things on the other side of the debate that I never even considered.  And my opinion, although not perfected today, has come a long way.

I think this is also apparent in the Neo-Calvinist movement within the SBC, trying to take it back to its supposed Calvinistic roots and forcing churches to adhere to them and teach them as if it’s an essential truth in order to believe in God.  Every time I found out someone that I knew was a Calvinist, I would judge them.  I am currently very sympathetic to Calvinism, but took a long time telling anybody; I was fearful that I would be labeled as an arrogant, close-minded reformer like many of the Neo-Calvinist leaders are looked at. Also, I’m not 100% sure on any of it.  I once thought I was when I was anti-Calvinist, and then I read scriptures and listened to people and changed my mind.  I might change my mind again.  But more importantly, why is it necessary to be sure on this topic?  It cheapens God’s sovereignty in my claim that I am all-knowing on any subject.  When we become face-to-face before God, we’re going to learn that a lot of our political, ethical, and even religious beliefs were wrong (I honestly can’t wait for God to go, “Heather, remember how you were so arrogant about __? Well, you were wrong, and there’s grace for you because I was more important to you than even that.”).

This goes beyond politics and quarrels within the Church.  This comes to our everyday life.  It is well-heard, “Before you judge someone, walk in their shoes.”  I think it’s dangerous to form an opinion, and especially to claim knowledge of a subject, without hearing all sides.  More than hearing them, but understanding them (taking their place and walking in their shoes).  Understanding a side different than yours takes more than reading a few books or listening to a few podcasts.  It takes learning from people, talking with people.  This should be especially true within the church.  We are to be in community with one another, and it strongly discredits Christ’s love for the Church when we break off communion with one another on topics that we haven’t taken the time to understand.  Maybe that person is a Calvinist because they don’t believe they could have found God without Him choosing them.  Maybe that woman hates hymns because she didn’t make it past 8th grade and has a small vocabulary.  Maybe that man isn’t a fan of small groups because his last one gossiped the entire time.  Maybe that man doesn’t come to church on Sundays because the only job he can find works those days.  Maybe that woman is pro-choice because her sister could have died in a pregnancy.  Maybe that Christian man is a Democrat because the fight against social injustice overrides the need to ban gay marriage.  Maybe that lady is for gay marriage because she separates legal marriage from covenant relationships.  Instead of judging people, understand them.  You don’t have to agree, but you don’t even need to tell them that either (with proper discourse, that will naturally come in a non-pushy way).  You just need to see people the way Jesus sees them: broken, fallen, and beautiful.  Christ sees you that way too.  You are just as much His bride as the rest of the Church; in fact, you are His bride together and that entails the need for empathy.  And at the end of the day, if you still disagree with them, that doesn’t mean their entire character should be shattered, especially if they are a follower of Christ; if you agree on the essential truths of salvation, then you are still a part of the Church and should edify one another.

Occasionally, you are going to run into a person who says while debating with you, “I’m listening to you, but I’ve heard this all before.  I’ve thought through this topic and have my opinion.”  This translates, “I’m listening to your comments, but I already know all there is to know on the subject and there is no new information you can give me.  There is no point in debating me, because I won’t change my mind but will debunk all your arguments in the most mocking way I can.”  THIS. IS. DANGEROUS.  I can’t tell you how much I have thought through, prayed through, and talked through different topics.  I may have strong opinions on subjects, but the day I claim to have it all together: please take me out of the local church before I infect people with my arrogant ignorance. Can you tell I am hurting right now?  Yes.  Because I used to be the person who was arrogant to think that they knew it all and only struck up debates to be the smart conqueror of them.  Because right now, people are discrediting me for being provocative in thinking and trying to be the “Devil’s Advocate” and understand both sides of issues.  But primarily because in a world where we have tragedies such as mass murders, children starving, public shootings, and great moments of glory like the young people beast-moding the Olympics; we are more concerned about our disagreement with a single politician or company that supports an ethic stance that differs from ours than for understanding our brothers and sisters.

ps, as I finish this post, I’m like “what do I even name this?!” hah.

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