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Everybody Stay Calm!

February 25, 2014

One of the things that I most enjoy about my church is the adult Sunday School class.  Week after week we have discussions that are lively, interesting and challenging.  Differing interpretations of Bible passages and differing opinions on ethical issues are common.  Yet the discussions always are courteous and we’ve never ended with that air of tension that can so frequently arises in theology discussions.

This past week was no different and, as it happens, one of the comments made was that we can always differ on our understanding of the Bible but that we can and should still call each other brothers and sisters in Christ.  The caveat given to that statement was the discussion should always be calm and, as ours are in the class, courteous.  This was quickly agreed to by the class.

The more I’ve thought about that statement though, the more I see an issue that makes me wonder.  Quite often the issues being discussed are not just theological to one of the participants; they are life-changing.  When that is the case is it entirely fair to expect  them to be calm and unemotional?

For example, let’s take three issues that for me, when raised in the context of a Bible study, are essentially theological discussions – gay marriage, divorce and remarriage, and women as preachers.  I am comfortable discussing what I believe the Bible teaches in these areas.  However, the discussion has no real world implications for me.  I am not gay, not divorced, and not a woman seeking to preach.  As such it is easy to stay calm and what I feel is rational.

However, if someone is gay and wants to get married; is divorced and wants to get remarried; or is a woman who feels called to preach these issues are central to who they are and how they live the rest of their lives.  Is it reasonable for me to expect them to express their views, and hear mine, as if it is only a theological discussion?  I think not.  If you tell someone “No, the Bible forbids you to marry/preach.” you are not criticizing their understanding; you are criticizing them, who they are.

I think all too often we don’t show grace enough to people in these situations.  Because we don’t mean to hurt them; because we are so sure we are not only right but merely speaking the truth in love, we feel that an emotional, or even hostile, response is their fault.  This is an unfair expectation.

So how do we show grace when a discussion is theological for me and personal for the one I am talking to?  I don’t think there is any easy answer.  Certainly stating up front that you understand where they are coming from is essential.  Caution to express your take on Scripture as your best interpretation and not “thus saith the Lord.” seems like a good idea.  Probably being willing to excuse emotional replies from others is also needed.  One rule I follow is to never express my thoughts into a personal situation like this unless I am asked to.  You may have other ideas.

But the funny thing about grace from God is that you need to ask for it over and over.  How He led me through yesterday’s conversation may not be how I need to approach today’s.  Maybe I need to cultivate the habit of asking God to give me grace every time I open my mouth.

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From → Christianity

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