On occasion, I am asked for advice on a variety of situations in life or ministry scenarios. Recently, I was asked to comment on how someone should respond when they hear (or read) something they disagree with.
Now this conversation ended up ranging a fair bit, and a number of different scenarios were put forward to see if there really was a 'one size fits all' response—which I'm transparent enough to admit—there isn't. Without rehashing every rabbit-hole we explored in that interaction, here is the gist of my response.
My general advice to those of us who hear or read something which we have a different opinion on, is this:
"Clamp your mouth. Bite your tongue. Unplug the keyboard. Do whatever it takes to refrain from commenting."
Now, I don't mean by this that we should never comment, or that there isn't a place for robust dialogue. There is a proper way to engage in healthy, and proper, defence of truth. Yet both my personal experience and anecdotal observations, tell me that the vast majority of 'robust dialogue' or 'authentic conversation' is a poor front for what the Bible calls 'meddling in controversies'. And while we as Christians are usually a little more reserved in this area when it comes to face-to-face environments, put us in front of a screen on our favourite social media platform, and our inner 'Keyboard Crusader' comes roaring to life.
Here's a truth I, and maybe you, need to revisit more often than we currently do:
2 Timothy 2:23-26 (ESV)—Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Note that Paul's instruction to Timothy begins here with "have nothing to do with..."—which should act to inform our default position on engaging with comments and discussions in general. However, Paul concedes that there are legitimate times when discussion and dialogue should take place—but how they take place is of great importance.
If you want to find a great example of kindness, patient endurance, or gentle correction, may I suggest you go looking elsewhere apart from your Twitter/Facebook Feed, or the Comments section on your favourite blog. Some of the more vile and vicious interactions I've ever read have been between those who profess to know the kindness of our Saviour or His patient and gentle correction in their own lives. Too often, what motivates my desire to comment is my desire to be right, not a desire to see repentance and restoration.
To close, I'd like to offer some practical advice:
- Don't respond. At all. Don't engage one bit. This should be your default position.
- If you must respond, do so at a later date. Leave a good amount of time to carefully consider both the original claims, and how you should carefully craft your response.
- Ask for counsel. Give your comment to a trusted advisor and ask for their prayer-fueled feedback.
- Critique your own motivation. Though our hearts are devilishly deceitful, seek to assess your posture in the interaction. Are you motivated by a desire to see this person growing in truth and grace? Are your mannerisms, voice, and tone, characteristic of someone who displays the Fruit of the Spirit? What do you hope to gain from this interaction?
- Don't feed the Trolls. Your hand will be inevitably bitten, and it leaves a rancid smell in the air that is unpleasant to everybody else.