Recently Dan Haseltine, lead singer of Jars of Clay (one of my favorite bands, click here to find out why) made some thought provoking and controversial statements on Twitter in an effort to engage in a thoughtful dialog about a difficult topic. Within minutes, people were making accusatory and hurtful statements in response. Within hours, radio stations had pulled Jars of Clay from their regular rotation and online articles had been posted by many of the news outlets that pay attention to the relatively tiny subculture that is contemporary Christian music. But the vicious and mean comments from people hiding behind the anonymity of the computer are what shocked me most. (Read Dan’s explanation and apology here.)
I don’t understand why it seems that it is no longer acceptable to respectfully disagree with one another anymore. It seems that if I disagree with someone, I am supposed to hate them or discredit them as ignorant and close minded. What happened to the days when a healthy, vigorous debate could end with mutual respect and genuine care for one another? I have been a fan of Jars of Clay for twenty years, and I’m fairly certain I disagree with them on many things. However, I adore their music, marvel at their creativity and artistry, and respect and love them as fellow brothers in Christ. Many of my closest friends have opposite political views to mine, and we are bold (or crazy) enough to talk about such topics. I love debating with my friends! To my knowledge, no one has gotten the other to change their mind, but we’ve challenged each other to see a different perspective and to work harder to defend our own! When the debate is done, I still love them, care about them, and respect their intellect.
I have to admit that I am a recovering know-it-all and if I had access to Twitter or Facebook in high school or college, I probably would have posted quite a few things I’d later regret. One of the things I have had to learn is to tolerate views that differ than my own. I used to base my identity on being right. This meant that I saw any opposing view as a direct threat to my worth and value as a person. But like lipstick on a pig, my vigorous and passionate defense of my opinions was really just dressed up insecurity. I had to learn that sometimes it is better to be righteous than to be right and to choose relationship over rhetoric.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not advocating for the kind of tolerance that leads to no voice or opinion at all. I have very strong personal beliefs and I make no apology for them. Every student in every class I teach has heard me say, “I believe what I believe because I think it is right. If I didn’t think my beliefs were right, I wouldn’t believe them!” Tolerance does not mean that no one is allowed to have any beliefs or opinions at all. NO! It means that varying, even opposite opinions are allowed to exist and be expressed. And I remind my students that they are allowed to disagree with me, even if I am the professor. I’m also not suggesting that our words don’t carry consequences, because they most certainly do! (Ask Donald Sterling, soon to be former owner of the LA Clippers.)
Scripture has a lot to say about the words we speak. A simple search of the word “tongue” yields 133 results and over 80 speak to the impact our words have both positive and negative. The tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21) and the ability to speak the truth in a loving way is a sign of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:15). And sometimes the wisest decision we can make is to say nothing at all (Proverbs 10:19, 11:12, and 17:28). But when we do choose to voice an opinion or take a stand for a belief, let’s do so with grace, humility, and without judgment (lest we be judged – Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37). Let’s be quick to listen and slow to speak. Let’s be quick to seek understanding and slow to make assumptions. Let’s be quick to forgive and slow to attack. Let’s all grow a little bit thicker skin. And let’s ensure that our identity stays rooted in being God’s beloved child, and not in being right.