[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
Put down your weapon
When many people start talking to others of different faiths, particularly on the internet but even in real life, there is a tendency to blast the other side with your arguments. This is often done with good intentions and I’ve seen many a person, when confronted about their angry or hostile tone of voice, defend themselves by saying that they were just speaking the truth–being honest and trying to win souls. Some will even point to various places in the NT where Jesus, Paul, or someone else was quite straightforward and some might say even a bit harsh towards the other side, and claim they’re just doing the same thing.
Well, the same Jesus who entered the Temple and threw everybody out with a whip and called the religious leaders of His day “blind guides” and “whitewashed sepulchers”, also taught us to love our enemies. And the same Paul who “withstood Peter to his face” also taught that if we speak without love, we are becoming useless noise (“sounding brass and tinkling symbols), and also said of himself that he “became all things to all people, that he might by all means save some”.
Yes, there is a time for strong words, but that was hardly the norm for either Jesus or any of His disciples. Also, Jesus was perfect and being God in human flesh knew perfectly well what was in the hearts of the men He confronted. You’re not perfect, you’re not God and you don’t know what is in the hearts of the people you confront, so err on the side of caution.
Attitude is everything
Consider times when people of other beliefs had discussions with you. Have you ever had an atheist come at you with verbal guns a-blazing saying things like, “The Bible is a bunch of myths and fairy tales and anyone who believes it is crazy!”? Did that make you want to seriously consider his point of view, or did it just make you want to dig in on your own side and prove your own position right, to the detriment of his? “Oh, but my position is right!” you might respond. “It doesn’t matter what his attitude was, he was wrong, wrong, wrongitty-wrong, so even if he had been honey-tongued, I wouldn’t have changed my opinion.” That’s entirely beside the point. The point is not whether you’re right and he’s wrong, but rather, how willing were you even to consider his side of things, because of his attitude? How you view him and his beliefs is how he views you and your beliefs; how you react to his hostile attitude is how others will react to yours.
Do you not find yourself more open, friendly, and responsive to those who are likewise? Do you not find yourself getting more quickly angry and closed-off to those who are likewise? If this is your attitude towards others, how can you think others will have a different attitude? The Golden Rule is to treat others like you want to be treated. Do you like being treated like an enemy? If not, how dare you treat others that way! Does being treated in a hostile manner make you more likely to join the other side? Of course, it doesn’t, so why do you think that treating others in a hostile manner will make them more likely to come to your beliefs, no matter how correct they may be?
In short, treat others with love.
Yes, in the Bible, love is primarily action (rather than primarily a feeling – “God so loved the world that He gave…”) and you may think it the most loving thing in the world to try to argue/reason others into a correct understanding, there is a certain amount of truth to that; but because love is an action, how loving is it to lob a “holy hand grenade” at them, trying to blast them to pieces (metaphorically speaking), in order to win points? Winning points does not necessarily equate to winning souls. You may win the battle and lose the war. “Those convinced against their will, remain of the same opinion still.” You may get someone to agree that your position is correct (or at least, may get them to stop arguing for their own position), but if you have been hateful towards them, do you think that they will join your side?
This does not mean that you are just to roll over and play dead, nor that you are to ignore all differences and sweep them under the rug. But it does mean that when you argue, your primary objective should be to win souls and not just score theological points, or you may find yourself winning every battle, but still losing the war.
Suck it up buttercup
What if you the above doesn’t apply to you and you’re always kind when arguing with someone on the internet who is wrong, but your opponent is attacking you? This is where you must metaphorically put on your bullet-proof jacket. Or simply remember, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” This is particularly important when dealing with people in cults, because those who have a lot of experience dealing with cults and those who themselves came out of cults testify that people in cults often express a great deal of anger and vitriol towards those who are reasoning with them about their beliefs – and often this anger increases the closer the people are to getting out of the cult! That seems counter-intuitive but it is well attested.
When people come at you with anger, don’t respond in kind. Or as Jesus taught, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer to him the other also. Be the kind of person that they should want to be. At the least, they may be intrigued as to why you are so kind to them even when they are mean to you. An old adage is, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” That is, you attract more people by being nice, than by being sour, bitter, or harsh. As Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Do good to them who hate you and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”