I get it. I can be a pretty argumentative person. I thrive on debates (much to the chagrin of my more passive friends) and as an online personality test once told me, I am a haughty-intellectual “you think you know everything, and you probably do.” In fact, I once thought I was wrong, and I was right, so therefore, I’m always right!
All joking aside, I have recently been reflecting on my own inner nature to try to prove my point, to become defensive, and to go around in circles without ever landing the plane. So to help me with this on-going struggle, I’ve started doing some research. I’m currently reading a really great book called When to Speak Up, and When to Shut Up by Dr. Michael Sedler. In this book Sedler shows us ways to affirm the other person’s dignity and worth, while also having the courage to state our own convictions clearly. Here’s one of the best tidbits of advice he provides: “don’t argue by stating your position over and over. If someone does not agree the first time, the next five times will not convince them. Saying it louder and with greater force will not work either.” (p.127). Yep, something I am definitely guilty of personally!
A few days ago, one of my fellow MennoNerds, Tabitha Driver wrote this incredible blog which you can see here: http://ultimatemetaphor.blogspot.ca/2016/08/when-christians-disagree-5-common-logic.html. I’d love to just copy and paste all the nuggets of wisdom she has to share, sorry Tabitha! But being the good little Mennonite girl that I am, I thought I’d kind of amalgamate Sedler’s book and Driver’s blog in order to provide you with my own perspective on the topic. It’s probably not as good as either one, but I hope it might be a close third.
#1: Understand the Reason for Your Argument
Although as I have stated and will readily admit, I am quite an argumentative person and thus probably get into some form of debate daily (yes, the good Lord still loves even me!) in the interest of time, I will only share with you the most recent one. Lately, I have really been struggling with the issue of women in leadership. Those of you who read my blog know that I just came home from a year-long mission’s trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Unlike my liberal Canada, Scotland is still quite conservative in a number of ways, meaning that you’d be hard-pressed to find a female pastor over there. In fact, many churches will not even let a woman be an elder! This has oftentimes been quite a challenge and struggle for me. I studied theology and I graduated with my Master’s of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry. Previously, I have served as a pastor and pastoral intern and it is difficult for me to go from being permitted to preach in a church to being told I need to be quiet and submissive. So I usually go right ahead and jump to the defensive. Even in Scotland, I was often very clear that this issue is a deal-breaker for me. I have no problem going to a church like that for a year or two, but when thinking of settling somewhere permanently or when contemplating where to put in church membership, this is a major issue of consideration. Yeah, I know, I’m probably a bad missionary for not blending in enough with the culture! However, I have recently started looking at the question quite honestly. What exactly is it about being told I can’t lead or preach that irritates me so much? On the one hand, I believe I have a strong calling from God and I want to please Him with my education and be a good steward of the 4 preaching courses I’ve taken. That’s a good motivation…probably the right one to have. But admittedly, I also realize that lots of times the real reason I’m frustrated is because I have an ego. I want to get the “status” I feel I deserve. I don’t want to be deprived of doing something I enjoy. And yes, perhaps, if I probe deep enough, I like the attention that preaching gives to me. So then the issue becomes less about God and more about myself which, as I’m sure you know, is a trap door for disaster.
Summation: It’s fine for you to disagree with someone else’s opinion, but you have to know WHY. You have to be honest with yourself. You have to realize when the issue is becoming less about God and more about you.
#2: Become Aware of Internal Triggers and Unwanted Emotions
Emotions are one of God’s greatest gifts to us. They remind us that we are alive and healthy. They allow us to experience joy and pleasure. They can also be highly distracting when we want people to take us seriously if we don’t know how to properly reign them in and put them in check.
A list of emotions to watch out for: anger, bitterness, jealousy, pride, envy, fear, intense people-pleasing, sadness, depression…I’m sure you can think of any number of other adjectives to add as well.
If you suddenly find yourself exhibiting a high level of any of these emotions, you need to slow down, take a breath, and stop. Re-evaluate the situation, ask yourself why you’re experiencing these feelings, validate them, then don’t resume the confrontation or debate until you can put them back in place again.
Emotions are neither bad nor good in themselves, but rather they serve as warning signs and signals. They can be helpful, but they can also detract from what you’re trying to say and make your words sound less credible.
Summation: A wise theologian once told me: “in the end of the day, your opinions don’t matter, and neither do mine, the only thing that matters is the Word of God.” We would do well to heed his instructions. It can be easy for us to become preoccupied thinking our viewpoint is the only correct one to have. We may even begin feeling our blood boiling and our pulse quickening. But if that happens, we need to take a step back and relax. We need to keep our head in the discussion…if we can’t do that, well…quite frankly… then we aren’t ready or mature enough to have that type of conversation yet.
#3: Agree to Disagree in Love…No Really…
With the women in leadership issue, I’ve also been realizing how I can be rather hypocritical on the issue… and I’ve definitely seen this with other areas as well. Here’s a classic example. I’m a people-pleaser (a bit ironic that I’m also an avid debater, isn’t it?) I love stirring up trouble, but then I go cower in the corner because I’m scared that people will be mad about it for the next month and a half (oftentimes this is an over-exaggeration and the majority of the time, they are just fine). Anyways, I’ll usually give a stereotypical Canadian phrase such as this: “Ultimately, I believe we can all have different opinions on this. It’s not a deal-breaker for salvation. It’s a side-hall issue, not a main-hall one. I have many friends who disagree with women in ministry, but we are all still friends. I respect them. They respect me.” But I realize that this is all just lip-service to what’s really stirring in my heart. Truthfully, I wish I could be the type of person who always respects other people’s viewpoints and is fine with them, but in reality, I’m far from that. I might nod my head in agreement when I’m with them or even add a few “mmm-hmmms” and “yes, that makes sense” but inwardly I’m seething. A lot of the time, I feel like I need the other person to come to my side, or else I haven’t done the issue justice. Even though I say that I’m fine with a close friend not supporting my vocation, inwardly, I’m hoping to bring him or her around so that they can see things from my viewpoint. Which actually really isn’t fair. If I’m asking them to respect where I’m coming from even if they don’t agree, to love and honour me even when they don’t support me, I should definitely be doing the same for them. So why aren’t I?
Summation: If you suddenly discover yourself secretly trying to convince the other person to come to your side even though with your lips you’re proclaiming that they are entitled to their own opinions, ask yourself why you aren’t willing to relinquish the control. What do you hope to get from their changing their mind? Is that really necessary for life in the Body, or can we actually, really, truly agree to disagree on some issues and still maintain close friendships and ties? One of my really good friends from Edinburgh and I have butted heads on this issue many, many times, but I’ll always remember what she said once when I Facebook messaged her after a particularly stressful debate. She said to me: “I’m not offended. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it, but the opposite, actually. Having different opinions adds colour to our friendship and is a beautiful part of our personalities. I don’t have this need to have everyone agree with me all the time, and you shouldn’t either.” Since then, whenever we end up being on different ends of the spectrum, I always remind myself to be thankful because our differences are what makes our relationship so unique and so much more interesting. It’s what makes it special, rather than bland or boring.
#4: Avoid Obnoxious Name Calling (In Other Words: Grow Up!)
Academic debates can often turn into “straw-man” type arguments when we let our emotions run rampant (if you don’t know what a “straw-man” is, it’s basically using irrelevant information and attacking the individual’s personal character in order to strengthen your point. It’s highly emotional, it’s immature, and it’s the way of most politicians – cf. what we see all the time in the latest U.S. political debate).
Getting involved in a theological debate requires precision, honesty, and integrity. It also means knowing and understanding the facts… not just going off on someone you disagree with. One of the biggest downfalls of the church, is Christians using verbal ammo against one another in order to compel the person to come to their side. May I ask a quick question though? If you’re constantly shooting at me, barraging me with your machine guns – what makes you think I want to hop the fence? I’d much rather stay on the side of peace. In other words, feel free to challenge someone else’s opinions, but do it with love and grace. Be the Quaker Peacemaker who walks across the field with a bag of chocolate chip cookies, shakes the enemy’s hand, and gives him a hug. Don’t be that big army thug. After all, Anabaptists are called to be pacifists, right?
Summation: If you want people to take you seriously, you don’t get that respect from knocking someone down, belittling them, insulting their character, or questioning their spiritual status. In other words, avoid saying meaningless things like “if you were really a Christian, you’d…,” or “I don’t see how you can really be a Christian and do…” Avoid thinking of one particular denomination, way of thinking, or theological position as being the only infallible option that will bring one to eternal life. Also resist throwing around terms like “liberal” or “conservative” with a tone suggesting that one means heresy and the other is synonymous with close-mindedness. If you are going to use loaded terms, understand the implications and look up what they actually mean (so as not to use them out of context). Better yet, avoid labels altogether. Even if you intend to use the words with their original definitions, culture implies all sorts of things about these ambiguous types of words…so best to run the farthest you can from them.
#5: Let Them Eat Zwiebach! (Or Borscht, or Strudel, or Rollkucken, or… You Get the Picture!)
Facing a myriad of people who disagree with female pastors has actually been quite a humbling experience for me. Today I was reflecting on how my inability to see things from the other person’s point of view is so counter-productive to what I really want my life’s aim to be about. Here’s why:
There are some people who sincerely believe that God does not allow a woman leadership over a man. Many of these people are not “women-haters” or do not see women as inferior, but they have come to that conclusion through careful dissection and Scriptural research. My Edinburgh pastor recently stated, “society and culture often tell us that unless men and women are doing the exact same things they are not equal, but that’s not necessarily the case.” And he’s right. The woman is the one who carries the child to term and gives birth and she is the one who breastfeeds her, but that doesn’t make her any less of a daughter to her father and that doesn’t mean the father therefore has no responsibility and care over her. A mother and father are similar and equal and yet incredibly different.
On the other hand, you meet people like me. People who have also done massive amounts of research, who know the Biblical languages, who have read the Bible cover to cover on multiple occasions and in many different translations, and who have theological training and they believe that it’s fine for a woman to preach. They see it as being a God-ordained ministry for both men or women and they recognize that calling is central so if the woman is called, why not?
Now in either one of these cases, what is ultimately the most important thing? To serve and honour God. One person comes to the conclusion that a woman shouldn’t preach because they want to respect God’s authority and His Word. They feel like denying a woman this opportunity is ultimately God’s Will. It’s how they serve God.
On the other hand, people like me believe that we can serve God both in and out of the pulpit regardless of our gender. We trust that by doing so we are being faithful to God’s call upon our life. We feel like to not speak, would set “fire to our bones” and would not be honouring all that God has given to us.
So then, who’s right? Well, in a way both are. When thought through correctly, both viewpoints are distilled into the same category: how to best live Biblically. Both are about being faithful to the witness and identity of the church, but both witness in incredibly different ways.
Realistically, I think that when Christ comes back, He doesn’t want us to be squabbling over petty theological differences. He wants us to spreading His Word and His message through our lifestyle choices. He wants us to care for the “least of these,” not sit behind ivory towers writing theological treatises that probably don’t make a whole lot of difference in the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for academic debates, but there’s an even bigger place for activist faith and true, life-giving and breathing Christ-centered spirituality.
So in the end of the day, let’s just throw aside our differences. Let’s agree to disagree. Let’s periodically put away our theological dictionaries, concordances, and interlinears, and let’s all eat a batch of zwiebach (or strudel or whatever other Mennonite food you want to insert here!)
Summation: I’ve you made it to the end of my long blog, congratulations. You probably need zwiebach not only to proclaim peace with fellow debaters, but also just to get your strength and stamina back so you can read other nerdy writings at https://mennonerds.com/! Just saying!