Most important topics of conversation are controversial. I certainly don’t want to undervalue simply being encouraging and supporting each other in our every day circumstances, but even then the elements of our lives we are in the most turmoil over are inundated with hard decisions and ambiguity.
When I begin, or participate in, some kind of debate – whether on facebook or twitter, or in realtime conversation in person – I often wonder if I should have just kept quiet. I feel bad when someone is offended by what I’ve said, or if they leave the conversation feeling that I “just don’t get it.” Sometimes fear of conflict is enough to keep me quiet.
And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Fear is healthy when there’s really something to be afraid of. Words can wreak havoc and cause real pain. A friendship is a high price to pay for winning an argument. In general, keeping the peace is a good idea.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)
That verse is surrounded by a wealth of advice that we can apply to conversation (emphasis mine):
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This passage isn’t isolated in Scripture of course, and there are many many others to lean on in conflict and conversation in general (Matthew 18, James 4), but a few things I’ve taken from this passage in particular are:
* I don’t have to be right.
* I don’t need anyone else to acknowledge that I’m right when I am.
* I shouldn’t attack character in lieu of providing evidence to support my argument.
* I don’t need to retaliate when my character is attacked.
* I should find ways to bless my opponent.
Staying silent sounds a lot easier than keeping all of those things in mind!!
The Bible is clear that we are to speak out against evil. It may seem like one small voice won’t make much difference in this huge world even with the assistance of social media. I shudder to “remember,” though, the moments in history when much suffering could have potentially been avoided if Christians had taken a stand despite the pressure to conform and keep quiet.
What about issues that are a little more murky than that? I am a bit more prepared to speak on issues that are in my best understanding contrary to Scripture. I still often leave with that sense of, “oh, I shouldn’t have responded in quite that way,” but I know it is because of my own lack of self-control rather than speaking about something I shouldn’t have.
There are lots and lots of things in every day life that I feel personally convicted on, but don’t feel that I can necessarily hold to dogmatically. Should I ever speak about those things? For the most part, I keep those opinions (about say, parenting, childbirth, lifestyle choices, money) to myself unless someone asks. I have found that to be the best course of action in general for keeping the peace.
Still, I think about the fact that I wouldn’t have been able to form the opinions I have formed and feel confident in the decisions we’ve made if I hadn’t heard or read someone speak on the subject. Many times my opinions are changed (for the better, I hope) by articles or conversations that I just “happen” across.
Most of these issues are largely amoral. In other words, I don’t think that someone on the other side of the argument is sinning by disagreeing with me. So are they worth speaking out on? The implications of, say, unnecessary medical intervention in childbirth can be lifelong for mother and child, and so I’ve written about them.
It seems that discernment is the key. I’ve heretofore operated on the philosophy that there’s little harm in disseminating information that I feel to be true and important. I’ve reserved most serious conversations about controversial topics to private conversation. And I have tried to only post and bring up topics that I feel well versed in. The passage in Romans that I quoted speaks to me mostly of maintaining humility. I know that I don’t always do the best job of that. :(
What do you think? Is there a place for talking about controversial topics in a public forum even if you aren’t an “expert?” Are there some things we just shouldn’t talk about (never bring up religion, politics, or money at the dinner table)?