Why Don't Christians Play Nice?

On learning to put our will to be "right" second to our call to love.

Several years ago, I got into a debate with a close friend and the conversation went quickly south. What began as a discussion about our theological and political differences ended up in a shouting match in which each person's character was called into question.

I went into the argument with a "win-at-all-costs" mentality. Winning a disagreement was the only way I knew how to disagree, but what I lost wasn't worth the victory. I said plenty of things I didn't mean. As the saying goes, "I won the battle, but lost the war." And lost a great friend in the process. We haven’t spoken since.

I may have won the debate, but it wasn’t worth the cost.

Why are we so comfortable tarnishing the name of Jesus—whom we all call “Lord”—just so we can win the argument?

We’re never going to agree with everyone we come in contact with, but we must learn how to disagree in a way that honors Christ and His body.

Disagreement is an increasing norm in our lives, but we're marginally equipped. It's much easier to post disparaging remarks on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and news articles. Digital disagreement allows us to hide behind a screen.

Just take a sampling of the Christian blogosphere, where heated debates on who gets into heaven, the biblical role of women and gay marriage, just to name a few, are commonplace. Spend time scrolling through comments where any of these discussions take place and you'll immediately lose your faith in humanity.

All of this painfully illuminates the question: Why can't Christians disagree well? Why are we so comfortable tarnishing the name of Jesus—whom we all call “Lord”—just so we can win the argument?

Christians spend much of their time focused on how to engage the un-Christian world around them—and rightfully so. Yet in doing so, we sometimes lose our ability to navigate conversations and relationships with our own brothers and sisters.

John didn't hold anything back when he said: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). We usually apply this to our relationship with unbelievers, but loving “one another” in and amongst our own is an incredible witness as well—for better or for worse.
So how can we turn this around? What do we need to do in order to disagree with our brothers and sisters in love?

But the reigning mark of our faith is not holding on to our personal rights, but offering our Christ-reflective unconditional love.

First, we need to understand that the underlying theme that allows for disagreement to happen in a healthy way is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence can be simply defined as seeking to understand before being understood. It's human nature to fight for your supposed “right” to an opinion and your supposed “right” to be heard. But the reigning mark of our faith is not holding on to our personal rights, but offering our Christ-reflective unconditional love. It's easier hoard the opportunity to push someone else down than to sacrifice your right to be heard. But to uphold the name of love, this is often the harder, better way.

Emotional intelligence is sacrificing your rights in order to care for others. This is deeply rooted in the Christian faith: "In humility value others above yourselves" (Philippians 2:3). By focusing only on yourself—your opinion, your agenda, your perspective—you shrink the world. Your problems become the lens you see everything through. You isolate yourself from a world looking for attention, love and human kindness. You cannot care for others when the world revolves around you. And you cannot build the Church body if all you are concerned about is yourself.

Yet in focusing on understanding the other, in an intentional act of love, your world expands. By seeking to understand before being understood, "our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action," says psychologist Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.

Just like in any family, conflict among Christians will never go away. But when we learn how to seek understanding before being understood, we can begin to have healthy disagreements.

We can learn to focus on areas of agreement over areas of disagreement. And perhaps then, we can restore our reputation of love.

22 Comments

Elisa Kim

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Elisa Kim commented…

I could relate so much, found myself nodding while reading.

After reading the article I was thinking about the need to be humble, peacemaking and seek reconciliation with a christian sibling. But it takes two to reconcile. I have had different results. Some good ones that reaffirmed love, forgiveness, and gracious reconciliation. Some sad ones that showed that pride got in the way. I always ended up walking away from those who kept pushing that they were right and apologizing for my part, acknowledging what I said wrong. But they would not apologize for their part. I always felt like I was blamed completely for the argument. I ended up having to put boundaries up, because some relationships became toxic or codependant and when I realized what was going on I had to make the hard choice of walking away, putting space to heal and deal with how I felt about the person and my part in it. But I entrust that God's Holy Spirit will keep working in their lives. And eventually we might reconcile on this side of heaven or if not. At least in God's Kingdom when Jesus returns. His gracious and loving truth always reminds me that there is hope^^*

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David Zirilli

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David Zirilli commented…

We tend to think that all of our ideas and opinions are of equal value. We tend to think that Christ dying on the cross for our sins is really important. But, we also think that our view on gay marriage and communion and the inerrancy of Scripture are equally important. And then, we add in our style of liturgy and type of worship music into the argument. By the end of the day, we are fighting over things that we didn't care about a week ago and won't care about next week. We get caught up in this win-lose mentality.

My thoughts about the importance of building different levels of our house of faith. Foundational beliefs, structural beliefs and "decor" have to be kept in their proper place. And our foundation better be really simple and solid.

http://stillwatersthewatermark.blogspot.com/2013/04/lost-your-faith-its-...

I used to fight about all kinds of things. And, the Gospel message got lost amidst the arguments. I can't stand to do it any more. I just don't care to argue about being an evolutionist or creationist, argue about abortion rights, argue about global warming, or argue about anything.

Let me listen to your story and share mine and Christ be glorified.

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David Zirilli

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David Zirilli commented…

And, at the same time, there is a need for us to judge those within the church, to lovingly, humbly call them out when we see that they are stuck in sin.

http://stillwatersthewatermark.blogspot.com/2013/05/time-to-judge-biblic...

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Katie Marie Michelle

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Katie Marie Michelle commented…

Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for a brother or sister is to call them out and to call them up to who they are created to be in Christ. All in balance. Sometimes a brother needs encouragement and sometimes a sister needs correction. We need to lovingly keep each other accountable.
It takes two seconds to offer an ongoing conversation up in prayer and to ask for God's guidance. It also takes two seconds to think "I know best" (either in err of too much correction or too little love behind it).
Jesus flipped a table in the synagogue because people were making this place of worship into a marketplace. He didn't stand back and say "whatever floats your boat". He called them out. But he also ate with the tax collectors and prostitutes.
Murder is evil. The murderer however is just as much in need of and worthy of God's love and mercy. And God calls us to be His hands and his feet.
Ultimately judgement is God's alone. Only He knows a man's soul. But we are to sharpen one another in love.
I like the article a lot. It brings some things to light. There's a quote that I'm thinking of that I'll have to post once I find it. Basically, I think we tend to err either on the side of overly defensive in our belief system or accepting of everything as truth in the name of love.

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Katie Marie Michelle

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Katie Marie Michelle commented…

Here's that quote:
“It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” Aristotle

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Tyler Braun

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Tyler Braun replied to Katie Marie Michelle's comment

Quite fitting. Thanks Katie.

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