A friend of mine called during the last election cycle to say he would no longer be attending the class I taught.
Confused, I asked the obvious question. The answer could not have come as a bigger surprise. “Because of your political beliefs,” he said.
What struck me was that telling me his decision was no less painful for him to say than it was for me to hear.
Through tears and much discussion, we left the conversation agreeing to disagree. It was one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as a Christian and one that has dramatically shaped how I think about conflict.
As we prepare for another presidential election in the U.S., I find myself looking for ways to minimize the spiritual casualties.
In a recent study on Acts, I came across the conflict at the Jerusalem Council and was inspired by what I wish I’d known back then and what we might learn in this season.
When believers disagree, the issue should be confronted – not avoided.
At their temporary home in Antioch, it would have been easy for Paul and Barnabas to decide a confrontation with believers in far-off Jerusalem was simply not worth the hassle.
However, believing unity in the body was something that couldn’t be compromised, they left to speak face to face (see Acts 15:2).
When we find ourselves at odds with others, it’s tempting to avoid the problem, wrongly believing that disagreeing is the same as disunity. We face discomfort, the loss of pride and even the chance of a fractured relationship.
Having the courage to speak up, like my friend, is just plain hard. However, only when we risk confronting the issue, do we have the opportunity to truly grow in fellowship and a deeper understanding of each other. What can’t be shared, can’t be known.
Acts 15:4 reveals the importance of showing hospitality to those with whom you disagree.
Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we should act disagreeably. As image-bearers of God we reflect God to the world.
Jesus didn’t say they would know we are Christians by our theology, our beliefs or even our actions. He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Sitting down over a meal or a cup of coffee is more than just good manners. Welcoming those with opposing views says, “I value you enough to hear your perspective; I respect you enough to listen to you.”
Before drawing conclusions listen to, debate with and consider other points of view before expressing your own.
Do you find yourself hardly listening when someone speaks? Are you just waiting for your chance to jump in with your opinion? Do you come to a debate with your mind already made up? If you said “yes,” then you’re not alone.
In Acts 15:6, we see they all gathered together to consider the matter. There was no demonizing strangers or throwing shade.
They also focused on the matter, not the person. Too often when we talk politics, it’s easy to abandon the issues and, instead, choose to slander not only the candidate, but his or her supporters as well.
Finally, after much debate the assembly fell silent and listened to Peter, Paul and Barnabas (see verse 12). Giving the other person the floor to express their point of view validates people and allows for a thoughtful exchange of ideas.
There are many things Christians disagree on, but the Bible can be our common ground. When we come to an impasse, we should return to the Word of God.
Rather than relying on our own understanding, or even the teachings of pastors and other spiritual leaders, the wisdom we find in the book (especially the words in red) should be our true north.
And when these words are sifted through the beliefs, understandings and convictions of the entire body of Christ, we can discover the Truth collectively.
Finally, we should focus on essentials.
In the case of the Jerusalem Council, many failed to make the main thing the main thing, which James pointed out to them in his concluding statement (see Acts 15:13-20)
In the words of a 17th century theologian, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things, Jesus Christ.”
In the instance of the Jerusalem Council, the practices of their old life were what threatened the new Christians’ salvation and growth. Focusing on the essentials of the faith was far more important than Jewish traditions.
This is not to say that non-essential means not important. It’s just that some things are key and others – just aren’t.
A writer, a Bible teacher and a mother of three, she lives and works at the beach with her husband Jon and their dog.