Lowering the temperature
The temperature outside is rising, and so, it seems, is the heat in our public discourse right now. New lows in civility are being set almost daily and are then given a ready platform in both news and social media.
Of course, public debate has always been heated, but the speed at which differences of opinion turn into personal attacks today is disturbing. The vitriol isn’t confined to a political party or point of view: it’s becoming endemic.
So how can we disagree without coming to blows? The apostle James, who wrote one of the most practical books of the Bible, has simple and timely counsel for us all.
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:19-20 NLT)
Listen before launching into your own opinion: what simple counsel, so easily overlooked! It’s implied that we give our attention to another when we listen. This not only raises the chances of understanding what is being said, it also communicates respect.
Social media has made it easier than ever to do the opposite: speak constantly and not listen at all. If we’re not interested in listening, then we’re simply enthralled with our own voice.
We’re also to be “slow to get angry.” If we listen more readily than we voice our opinion, anger from misunderstanding may be greatly reduced.
But what if you genuinely disagree? James mentions nothing about being in complete agreement with the one listened to: if we’ve listened and extended respect to a person with whom we disagree, we have honored them. Communication grows within relationship.
There may be some people whose behavior or speech may be so repugnant that we find it difficult to respect them. In this case, it may be best not to say anything at all toward them (our moms were right), but instead regard them as someone made in the image of God — even if we don’t feel they’re acting like it!
If we apply this counsel to our relationship with God, major transformation will occur. Let’s be quick to listen to Him as He speaks to us through His word.
Only God can accurately judge our motives, and sometimes they aren’t pretty. “So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” (James 1:21 NLT)
We can’t clean up ourselves, but Jesus stands ready to do so, if we only ask! He offers forgiveness and a new life when we trust our lives to Him. That’s how our souls are saved.
We may not be able to lower the temperature of public discourse, but we can show respect — and God’s kindness — toward friends, family, and acquaintances with whom we may disagree. Our good example can have a powerful impact on others.
Pastor Don Baumann of Hilltop Community Church is a member of the Carson Valley Minister’s Association.