The results of this year’s presidential elections give us yet another opportunity to learn important lessons about dissent. It is not my intention to take sides or promote any candidate. My sole concern is our attitude in engaging with whom we disagree. Take for example some of the posts I read regarding the results of this election.
I believe that none of these responses are appropriate from a Christian perspective. In addition, I believe they lack any rational bases. We must carefully distinguish between the ideas we disagree with and those that espouse them. The best way to overcome a bad idea is to present a better idea. Attacking those with whom we disagree does not bring about the results we desire. Furthermore, if as Christians we wish to persuade others that our values are worth considering we must not just speak about our values, we must demonstrate them in the way we treat each other.
Consider some of these posts and ask yourself what can we learn from them? I know as I consider these posts that they may not be coming from people who identify as Christians, but sadly I have observed similar sentiment among fellow believers.
Lesson 1—There is a gracious and wise way to handle disagreement. Unfortunately, it is not too common among Christians and it ought to be. As Christians, we are held to a higher standard. Regardless of how strongly we disagree on an issue, we must love and pray for those who espouse it.
Lesson 2—Just because someone disagrees with us it doesn’t logically follow that they are dumb, ignorant, or idiotic. What is truly foolish is believing that anyone who doesn’t agree with us is a fool. People believe things for different reasons and we must avoid the temptation of dismissing those reasons as foolish. After all, our opinions are not the ultimate measure of wisdom, God’s opinions are. Furthermore, calling people names does very little to advance dialog and discussion of the ideas with which we disagree.
Lesson 3—Statistics and trends can be interpreted in many ways. The idea that college educated people tend to vote for candidate “x” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the intelligent thing to do. It could also be that college educated people have embraced a platform that inclines them in one direction or another. I think we would all agree that a college degree is a good thing, but it is not a necessary condition for someone being intelligent or well educated.
Lesson 4—Openly desiring the death of those with whom we disagree is the ultimate expression of ad hominem attacks. We can kill people, but that does not kill ideas. The best way to defeat an idea is by presenting a better one and persuading others to consider it. As Christians, we must adhere to the ethical code established clearly by Jesus himself—even the thought of killing is considered equivalent to the act. We must love one another and we must love our enemies.
Lesson 5—As Christians we are instructed to pray for our leaders—even the ones we don’t like. This is hard to do, but it is a demonstration of our belief that God is sovereign over the affairs of men. God sees the big picture—we don’t. It is wise to give Him the benefit of the doubt and to trust Him, regardless of who is elected.
Lesson 6—Beware of Hubris (excessive pride or self-confidence)! When considering others dumb, ignorant, or idiotic, we are positioning ourselves on a “high horse” from which it is very easy to fall. Even when we consider ourselves on the side of truth, we must be careful to hear what the other side has to say. Respecting the opinions of others is a sign of true wisdom and humility. It does not mean we must agree, but it keeps are beliefs in check with reality.
Lesson 7—In sports, excess celebration is considered unsportsmanlike conduct and is usually penalized and discouraged. I think the same applies during elections. If you are on the winning side of this election, DON’T GLOAT! If you are on the losing side, DON’T DESPAIR. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Winning with grace is a sure sign of spiritual maturity. Losing with grace is also a sign of spiritual maturity. After all, God is still on His throne.
I’m sure there are many more lessons to be learned, but let me conclude with some sound Biblical teachings with regards to how we should interact with those with whom we disagree.
Jesus, Paul, and Peter encourage us to engage with our culture. This means we are to advocate for and defend our beliefs. HOWEVER, much can be learned from their instructions.
Jesus makes it clear that we are not to hide or be ashamed of our beliefs:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV
In other words, we MUST let our light shine before men. We MUST be bold! No hidden lights! No lights under a basket! Put it on the lamp stand for all to see. We MUST do it in such a way that what they see will attract them to God. This is a key component of our response. Our responses should be attracting those who disagree with us—not repelling them.
Paul uses very aggressive language, but the aggression is clearly focused on the ideas and not on those who espouse them:
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV
What exactly are we supposed to be demolishing? We are to be demolishing strongholds and arguments—not people! What are we to take captive? We are to take thoughts captive—not people. How exactly do we demolish arguments? With better arguments—divine truth!
Finally, consider Peter’s advice:
“15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” 1 Peter 3:15 NKJV
We must always be prepared to give an answer—BUT—we must be careful to present it with “meekness and fear” or as the NIV puts it with “gentleness and respect.” This is a powerful lesson coming from Peter! Wasn’t he the one who resorted to violence and tried to cut the opposition’s head off? Yet he learned a powerful lesson that night—God’s Kingdom is not advanced by the sword.