Words are tricky things. They have multiple meanings (check any dictionary). Combine them into sentences, and you exponentially increase their potential for misunderstanding. Consider the speaker’s use of language, frame of reference, and emotions about a subject – as well as your own – and you begin to see how it’s a miracle that we can communicate at all.
But knowing these variables, why do we so often rush to offense at what someone says? Especially as believers? Here are some easy examples.
He says she is softening her language to reduce the inherent offensiveness of the Gospel. She says she is merely toning down the “Christianese” in order to facilitate understanding.
She says, “Doctrine isn’t the most important thing when people are starving.” He says she doesn’t think doctrine is important.
He says we have to make an effort to engage culture, to care for “the least of these.” She says he’s becoming “worldly,” acting no different than them, not setting an example.
She calls it openly discussing other spiritual beliefs in order to develop a relationship. He reminds her about the narrow gate. Everybody can’t be right, even a little.
A certainty of conviction often kills possibility of meaningful discussion. A willingness to pursue meaningful discussion outside of convictions is often dismissed as “she’ll believe anything.”
He says he is trying to accurately interpret Scripture for this time and place. She says she aligns herself with the Bible as Truth. End of discussion.
Right now, some of you are reading this and have already decided that I’m advocating some sort of relativism. Then you have already missed the point. Every one of the “couplets” above responds with an assumption about the first person’s position, based on the second person’s preconceived ideas and bias about the subject. For example, the statement “Doctrine isn’t the most important thing when people are starving” tells you absolutely nothing about this person’s doctrinal beliefs.
Every person in the world needs to read a book called Crucial Conversations. It’s one of those books you have to read more than once. Here’s how it explains what’s happening in these conversations:
“Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. That is, we add meaning to the action we observed. To the simple behavior we add motive… We also add judgment – is that good or bad?”
We fail to question because “we confuse subjective conclusions with steel-hard data points.”
When faced with a statement that’s offensive, or perplexing, or which doesn’t at face value seem to align with the traditional Christian viewpoint, the first thing we must do is ask the question,”I wonder if they might possibly mean something else which I am not at this moment understanding?” And then proceed to ask more questions, such as, “Are you saying this?” Our brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we assume we disagree deserve our best attempt at understanding before condemning.