In an increasingly loveless world, how do we respond like Christ when our values and convictions clash with those around us?
In “Being Christlike in Cultural Clashes,” on the CDM Podcast, Paul and Rebecca discuss ways in which we as Christians fall into the trap of engaging the world like nonbelievers when it comes to conflict. If we’re truly going to bring healing to the issues facing our nations, cities and neighborhoods, we’re going to have to engage in a way that is uniquely Christian instead of adopting the ways of the world and fighting fire with fire. Out of several pitfalls that Rebecca and Paul address, we will look at three responses to conflict that hinder us from shining the light of Christ in an increasingly dark and hostile world.
Every day, in matters both big and small, our world grows increasingly divided by tribalism, and we as Christians are not immune to this. We choose sides and pick teams regarding a variety of issues both big and small — politics, theology, sexual orientation, drugs, alcohol, schooling, entertainment, the pandemic, vaccinations, dieting, exercise, clothing, and the list goes on and on.
Often times, we think we’re standing up for truth and what’s right when we write other people off as stupid, but the reality is we’re not pitting our ideals versus someone else’s in honest, mutual truth seeking. We’re just part of a team, a club, a group of people who want to win.
One of the worst ways we see tribalism play out is when we minimize the sins and mistakes of people in our camp while we highlight and magnify the faults of those in a different camp. As Christians, it is not only okay, but essential, for us to acknowledge the ways we have failed and do fail each other and those outside the Church.
It’s a gross injustice and misapplication of Scripture when we explain away or staunchly defend our corporate (and individual) shortcomings and sins. This doesn’t just apply to the Church at large, but also to our individual churches, nations, cities, neighborhoods, political affiliations, workplaces, families, schools, clubs, and every other kind of group we’re a part of.
This isn’t to say we should never have opinions or convictions about anything, or be around others who share similar convictions. That’s unavoidable unless we want to be spineless husks our entire lives, but we can avoid tribalism by not adopting one side’s entire set of actions and talking points without discernment.
We have to realize that while the people and groups we align ourselves with may be right about a lot of things, they won’t be right about everything. Maybe they’ve been wronged or are advocating for someone who has been wronged, but that doesn’t mean they are always responding in the right way.
That’s why we have to approach controversial issues with discernment, humility and maturity, seeking truth and reconciliation with our opponents rather than trying to humiliate them. This means being willing to stop and listen to the whole story from multiple sides and acknowledging the ways we personally, and corporately, have gone wrong.
“Reconciliation can only happen when both sides in a particular problem admit where they need to change and embrace each other equally. It’s not one side crushing the other underneath their feet and demanding that they alone need to change.”
Pragmatism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “taking a practical approach to problems and affairs,” which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. It gets bad very quickly, however, when we as Christians take the Machiavellian approach and justify doing something sinful, saying, “the ends justify the means.”
We’ll spew vitriol against people on the internet or spread gossip under the guise of a “prayer request” for a wayward brother or sister, or verbally punch someone in the face, if we don’t also do it physically. Then we’ll justify it, saying, “I’m just being honest,” or, “This person did something wrong, so I’ve got to put them in their place.”
We behave like two-faced politicians do, compromising our beliefs and convictions when it’s convenient for us and justifying it by saying it’s for the greater good, it’s living to fight another day, we’re doing some necessary evil now so that we can do a whole lot of good later.
That is not biblical. Nowhere in the Bible does God give us permission to sin in order to achieve something good.
If that’s what God wanted, then the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from Daniel 3 should’ve had a very different outcome.
These three Jewish officers within King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, at the command to bow down and worship the king’s image on pain of death, could’ve easily justified bowing down, saying, “Look, we don’t really need to worship this thing. We’ll just bow down and blend in so we can keep our positions of authority and then we can change this flawed system from the inside! After all, we’ll be of more use to God and our people alive than dead, right?”
But that’s not what they did. In response to Nebuchadnezzar’s explicit threat to incinerate them alive if they wouldn’t bow, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told the king to his face, humbly but firmly, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
These men loved God more than their positions and their own lives.
Jesus does not say to us, “Save your life now so you can do good things later.” He says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
This is where we become conceited and arrogant, quietly or loudly thinking we have all the right answers and handle everything the correct way.
Instead of being winsome and gentle, we say things in ways that are devoid of love, shouting the truth without respect and without meeting the needs of people.
We will make ourselves feel good because we are speaking out, but speaking out in and of itself is not enough. Truth needs to be coupled with love and action. It’s not just griping; it’s picking up the phone to call your politician, writing a letter, attending a community meeting, or calling someone else with a different perspective to understand their side.
We should be willing to speak truth boldly and also seek to meet the needs of those in pain.
We don’t want to condone people’s sins, but we do want to meet the issues so that we can bring healing. Meeting the needs of people is not the same as approving of what they do.
“Instead of spending our time grousing to each other about this injustice or that person who needs to do something different...we need to do something to correct the problem.”
Even if we’re saying the right things, people will justifiably ignore us if we don’t back it up with action. The old adage is true that says “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care [about them].”
We can only see the true healing that our world and our nation desperately need through the power of the Gospel, but how are people to “call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard (Romans 10:14)?” And why would people want to hear of Him when his followers act as ruthlessly and cruelly as everyone else?
Christ calls us to live in a manner worthy of our calling, as pictures of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, and more, for God’s glory and the winning of our non-believing friends and enemies.
There is so much more in the podcast than was covered in this article, so if you found this blog helpful and would like to learn more, you can listen to the “Being Christlike in Cultural Clashes” podcast here or on the CDM App under podcasts! Thanks for reading!