Steph Curry recently led his team to their fourth world championship. Most analysts, including former players, call Curry the greatest shooter of all time. They believe his selflessness and infectious enthusiasm for the game make his team one of the greatest in history. Others say Curry is an egotistical showman, a flawed player who’s ruining the game and only won championships when paired with great teammates. How can we look at one person and disagree so sharply? If we can fight about Curry, we can fight about almost anything.
It seems that people today disagree more often and more sharply than ever. For millennia, most societies agreed on basic questions: What is virtue and goodness? What do people owe their family and society? What is the script for a leader, a man, a woman, a child? There were always disagreements, but now they’ve become more frequent and fundamental. Can families, friends, and churches learn to live together well even when we disagree about weighty, emotional issues?
For millennia, most societies agreed on basic questions. There were always disagreements, but now they’ve become more frequent and fundamental.
Some say no. They encourage Christians to separate from anyone who has differing views on politics, gender, or even music. It can be easier, but it’s impoverishing to separate from people when we disagree. It’s also impoverishing, even if it feels safer, to avoid conversations about difficult topics like COVID-19 policies, policing, race, gender, gun violence, immigration, and abortion.
We may want fellow believers to agree on social issues, but a church that opens its doors to its community—a church where unbelievers gladly attend—can expect both members and attenders to sometimes disagree. Is there a better way to maintain a unified community amid disagreement? Here are five encouragements.
1. Listen actively, attentively, and empathetically.
James 1:19 (NIV) says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We should listen with the goal of stating the other person’s position in terms she’d consider accurate and fair. Active listeners sit still and make eye contact. Ask, “Do you mind if jot down some of your points? It helps me listen.” If you interrupt, it should be to say, “Can you say that again? I want to be sure I understand you.”
The goal of listening is to open a dialogue, not launch a critique. Don’t interrupt to say, “No, no, no!” Listen for the other person’s strongest points, not to refute her weakest ones.
Listen to know people as they are, not as you imagine them to be. Love quiets internal voices that anticipate our turn to speak by rehearsing clever rejoinders. It silences the question, “How shall I reply?” Like Christ, love sometimes criticizes dangerous errors, but it also listens tenderly to render aid.
2. Give grace and show love.
We’re to speak the truth in love and give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:15, 29). If someone with whom you disagree misspeaks slightly or makes a minor mistake, we may ignore it. If he struggles to make his point, you can repeat back what you think he’s saying and ask, “Is that right?” This is one way to live by Proverbs 20:3: “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.” It’s gracious to acknowledge that debated issues are complex and that your conversation partner makes valid points—or at least heartfelt and interesting points. If we think an idea is hopelessly misguided, we can at least say, “I agree this is an important issue.”
3. Keep the big picture in mind.
Gospel-driven churches gladly welcome unbelievers and Christians from every ecclesiastical tradition into their worship and Bible studies. If that’s true, how much more should we graciously engage people from every political and social tradition?
Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). He saw how God’s justifying verdict transcended the sharpest divisions of his day. We must let our faith in Jesus count more than ethnicity, social views, and economic or educational status.
4. Find common ground.
We usually listen better to those with whom we agree on certain essentials. So, at the beginning of a dialogue, it’s helpful to find that common ground. Can we agree God is neither Republican nor Democrat? Can we agree the church ought to welcome people from across the political spectrum? Can we agree that the leading political parties both emphasize points that resonate with Scripture?
In Matthew 22:15–21, Jesus limits what we “render to Caesar.” This accords with traditionally conservative emphases. But in the next chapter, he says the “weightier matters of the law” are “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). Justice and mercy are traditionally liberal emphases. I can already hear the pushback: Liberals will say, “We also want to limit the government’s power.” Conservatives will say, “We care about mercy and justice too.” Good! We agree enough to stay in a healthy dialogue.
5. Use points of contact to build bridges wherever you can.
In Acts 17:22–28, Paul connected with pagans by agreeing with them that there was (for them) “an unknown god.” He cited, with some approval, pagan poets who proclaimed, “In him we live and move and have our being” and “We are indeed his offspring.” Paul models how we can, for the sake of discussion, make statements that are plausible to both parties even when those parties may define the terms differently.
By finding points of contact with an unbeliever who attends your church, you can turn down the heat on a potential debate and open a more fruitful dialogue. While this isn’t the final goal of a conversation with an unbeliever, it can be a good starting point.
We must let our faith in Jesus count more than ethnicity, social views, and economic or educational status.
These five suggestions probably won’t get the NBA fans in your church to change their perspectives on Steph Curry, but I believe they’ll help you to promote respectful dialogue amid disagreement.
After all, no one wins a shouting match. If we hope to win secular people with the gospel, we must learn to listen and communicate with great skill. If we hope to have unity with fellow believers, we must learn to kindly dialogue with them as well. We may persuade them, and we may even be persuaded by them, but the goal is to be humble peacemakers who bring healing within the church and shine the gospel of peace brightly in the world.