February Mailbag - Disagreeing on Political/Social Issues & The Christian's Strange Need for "Struggle"

Editor's Note: Click here to access the following delayed Mailbag posts:

  • December 2017 (Dealing with depression. Building a platform. Struggling to read the Bible) 
  • January 2018 (Called into ministry? Navigating the tension of school vs. church life) 

The end of February means one thing: We all got through Valentine's Day alive. Thank God. 

Here are the February questions as the countdown to Valentine's 2019 begins. 

“Why do Christians feel like they need to be constantly struggling with something? I feel like I can't be happy because my life seems calm right now.

Anonymous / Brea (CA)

This is a fascinating question because it unearths a deeper question I think many American Christians struggle to answer: How does one follow Jesus when life is good? In other words, is there a place for "easy" in the concept of discipleship?

I'm theorizing here but I think many American Christians struggle to answer this from a logical standpoint. Why?

Well, the basic call of the Christian is that they're called to self denial, to "take up his cross" in the pursuit of Jesus (Matt 16:24-26). Paul, a major shaper of the faith, understood his own ministry as one of suffering (Col 1:24-2:2), whereas an early church leader by the name of James, commanded Christians to rejoice in the midst of suffering (James 1:2-4).

As a result, I think American Christians have a tendency to associate suffering, struggle, and difficulty as either proof of one's faith or the divine opportunity for spiritual progress.

To compact the issue, I don't think too many American Christians know how to answer this question from an emotional standpoint. Why?

Because American Christians are aware of their own privileges and opportunities in light of the rest of the world, I think there's a sense of uneasiness and guilt. We've heard, after all, the unfathomable stats of the unreached, the levels of poverty in different parts of the world, so it feels embarassing and wrong to be comfortable and abundant in blessings. 

This is why I believe American Christians have been drawn to certain works such as "Radical" (David Platt) and "Crazy Love" (Francis Chan). Not only do these works contain great truths, but they appear to present the missing key that bridges the gap between how the Bible appears to talk about the cost of discipleship and one's own state of life (affluence/comfort)

I call this the OC (Orange County) Christianity Symptom. Whereas Christians in other parts of the world deal with everyday crisis, American Christians are looking for an everyday cause. We're bored with the routine of our lives and need a cathartic break that affirm we're real Christians. 

So what is the American Christian in Brea supposed to do? Perhaps, it's to pursue as Biblical a spirituality as possible. Notice, I did not say pursue what's most spiritual, but most Biblically spiritual. Meaning, we allow the Bible to dictate how we should view both struggle and calm. 

We know the Bible utilizes struggle for discipleship. But does the Bible utilize "calm" or is it something to be avoided? 

Well, if we define "calm" as the absence of struggle, for a time of rest and enjoyment, it appears a Biblical case can be made. 

There appear to be various "seasons" or modes of life under the sun which include not just struggle but "calm" where laughter, dancing, and peace triumphs, at least for a time (Ecc. 3:1-8). The Sabbath concept is present before the Fall, after the Fall, and persists through the redemptive story of the Bible. What does Sabbath propose? Enjoy your Creator in rest! 

"But what about the daily routine?" 

Paul desired believers to work (2 Thess. 3:12) and asked churches to pray for government officials so that believers could maintain their routine life, out of which Paul expected and anticipated the gospel to advance. And if God's glory is the purpose and end of every Christian, Paul commanded Christians to leverage even the most basic of human actions such as eating and drinking in their corporate contexts for such purposes (1 Cor. 10:31).

So what's the take-away? The Christian should live for God's glory in every season for the purposes of delighting in God and displaying God's gospel to the world. However, this is not a fixed picture but a fluid one meant to be lived in various contexts and seasons of life with different melodies and flavors. 

Can the Christian enjoy food and have a routine for self-care? Sure! Intentionally delighting in God through Sabbath is commanded partly because of a hidden assumption that the believer needs to be routinely refreshed to best serve others. Can Christians get married and enjoy their honeymoon? Of course! Marriage a gift from God and it will ultimately display the mystery of the gospel to the world. Can a Christian work and make tons of money and spend it on a car? Sure! One will need to spend money on themselves while stewarding God's money for God's Kingdom.

The Christian sees the big picture of the Kingdom of God and will need to intentionally color in what obedience, stewardship, looks like in each and every season whether the sun is shining brightly or the storm is raging angrily.

So if life is good, rejoice! Give thanks! Encourage someone! And when the storm begins to brew, delight in your satisfier and display to the world that he's good no matter what comes your way. 

What is the best way to engage with a fellow believer with whom I disagree on a social or political issue? What about with an unbeliever?"

Sam / Anaheim (CA) 

Thanks for this question Sam. I can't do full justice to this nuanced and complex question in a mailbag edition, but here's what comes to mind:

1. Define and Clarify "Engagement" 

Almost every Christian agrees on the "engagment" verbiage that it should occur more often and frequently. But everyone appears to have a slightly variant understanding in what is meant by "engagement." 

For some, engagement is about coming out of the Christian bubble. It's not necessarily for the advance of the gospel, or to truly understand the perspectives of others, but just so they can avoid being one of those landlocked Christians. 

For others, engagement is synonymous with evangelism. They'll use any and every social/political issue as the bridge to share the gospel and invite someone to church. 

For others, engagement is about learning. They want to hear other perspectives and gain a greater understanding of the issues. 

For others, engagement is about correction. They want to correct what they believe is ill-advised thinking on part of another Christian. 

The point is we alredy have a certain picture and goal for engagement. It may be helpful for us to flush out what we mean and more importantly, think through what engagement should and ought to be. 

2. Honor the Greatest Commandments in Every Context

Political and social issues are complicated in every way - economically, situationally, and even personally. This is equally true in a conversation with both a fellow Christian and the non-Christian.

Therefore, though we'd expect conversation with a Christian to invite a set of expectations which should be different in conversation with a non-Christian, I think our key guiding principle remains constant: Love God and love others.

Meaning, we can engage conversation with the spirit of loving God and loving others (in dialogue with a Christian or non-Christian) to the best of our empowered ability in that given moment.

In the end, not only should this be the guiding principle for all of life, everyday, in every situational nook and cranny, but I think obeying this commandment will naturally guide an individual to discuss important issues in the most winsome way possible. 

Besides, we can win the argument (rhetoric) but really lose the argument (relationship), while the reverse can be true as well. This brings us to our next point. 

3. Seek to Learn Rather than Win the Argument

Whether the topic in discussion is gun control, abortion, or same sex marriage, the natural tendency of every person is to "idolize and demonize." It's our natural propensity to say, "My position is right and logical. Therefore, those who hold to those other positions are wrong and illogical and here's my group and party to back me up against those crazies over there." 

But even if our stance is objectively right, every stance has its own subjective reasoning, which invites us to seek greater understanding. 

For example, pro gun-control advocates will say, "Look at those idiots. They cite the 2nd amendment to own a semi-automatic, that's ridiculous!" And though I agree that logic is flawed, an assumption that that's the only reason someone would be anti-gun control is just as logically flawed. There may be other reasons.

"Yeah, they just love their guns, those idolator!" So we've gone from reductionistism to condemnation. 

I have my personal opinions on this issue, but have you ever considered that some may be anti-gun control because someone in their family has been shot and killed? Sure, that may not be a logical issue, but it's a profoundly emotional one. It's a human issue. It's a wound or a pain worth sympathizing with, which resets and reorients the conversation.

Now to be sure, there may be others who hold to a reasoning which you and I may deem illogical. But at least we know where someone stands enabling us to have meaningful dialogue where points and counterpoints can co-exist. 

Practically speaking, here's a helpful phrase: "You know, I actually agree with what you said there, but there's something else you said that I don't understand."

This enables a conversation to ping back and forth in a way where the goal is reaching the best ideas rather than trying to figure out a winner. The two discussing parties may be surprised to discover that there are actual points of agreement ("We both care about safety") while clarifying what we can grow in ("I need to do more research"). 

4. Wisdom is Winsome

I'm concluding that when it comes to disagreements, wisdom is king. 

It's helpful to know as an example, most digital conversations go bad. It's good to know that before diving into a social media thread with strong opinions since tone and facial expressions are incommunicable (emoji's can help maybe?). 

Another example would be ignoring worldview committments creating layers of conversational misalignment. It can be painful to watch a Christian give Bible verses to a non-Christian whose prior commitments do not affirm the validity of the Bible as a divine source. 

Another example would be asking set-up questions or trap questions so we can give our spiel. It's just not winsome. 

I think fewer things disarm an individual than asking fair questions with the right tone. If we convey that we're not trying to attack the person, but come up with the best idea, there's a sense in which we've already "won" the conversation. Who can argue with someone who's attitude and disposition is that every person is made in the image of God and is valued by the Creator, including those you disagree with?

Ask God for wisdom. See people. Ask good questions. Have a humble posture. In the end, it's okay to agree to disagree and love the other person for it.