Being Right in a Contentious World
The following blog is an excerpt from a much longer chapter by Meredith Resce. To read more, see the appendix below.
posted it today in response to feedback I received concerning one of my
recent characters. She is a normal 21st Century young woman who is
overly opinionated about equality. The novel examines her ideas, and she
clashes with others who are more conservative. The feedback I received
asked whether some readers may close the book before allowing my
character to go on her journey, simply because her outlook on life does
not fit the usual conservative mold. A reader who bails early will not
experience her development and understanding as it emerges. But is this a
reason for me to change this character and her journey of
understanding? After you've read the blog below, I'd be interested to read what you think?
I like to be right. In fact it would be fair to say, I’m obsessed with being right. I certainly don’t like to be wrong, and just quietly, I have worked hard to make sure I don’t find myself in that place where I might appear to be without all the answers. And that is all well and good until some bright spark pops up with a truly deep and disturbing question, the answer to which I have not a clue.
Are you like that?
When I do come to the awareness that I might be wrong, I like to be the one who comes up with the apology, as if it was my idea in the first place.
Are you like this?
It is at this point I realise I really need to look at my motivation.
Do I do what is right because I love God? Is it because I love other people, and want the best for them? Or is it more a case of I don’t want to look bad? Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to look bad. Does anybody like looking bad? This often leads me to the place where I become addicted to being right all the time.
The older I get, the more I realise there are things I do not know. What person on this earth can possibly be right all the time? How can any one of us know all there is to know about everything—from the outer reaches of the universe to the inner worlds of macro biology, no one can know it all. And that doesn’t even take into account all the philosophical, emotional and spiritual questions that could be asked.
So these questions exist and they beg to be answered: What is right? What is truth?
I do not have a corner on truth and righteousness. Just because I want to do what is right does not always make me right.
[When I first wrote this paper] I was well aware of a number of contentious issues being highlighted in media and social media arguments. I wanted to know the RIGHT answers, and wished I could contribute from a place of some authority. But I am not an authority on everything that needs to be examined—theology, psychology, philosophy, scientific research etc. I know stuff, but not everything there is to know.
I took out my notebook and began a list of contentious issues that are bound to raise hackles, if not passions. Twenty-two issues were written down. Over half of them were social issues represented by social justice groups. Now despite the fact that you might wish me to publish this list of contentious issues, I do not intend to, and this is the reason why:
Religious groups often feel they must take a firm and clear ‘position’ on these issues, which often throws fuel on the fire, and manages to end up burning not only the members of the religious groups, but also the folks affected by the issues.
Let me draw a picture so we can have a look at what is happening in our current western society.
For the sake of the exercise, I am going to label the corners as follows:
· Right winged, conservative, fundamentalist
· Left winged, secular, liberalist
· ‘I want to do what is right, but with so many arguments I’m not sure’ (uncertain)
· The footy is on. Have you ordered the pizza? (indifferent)
From my observation of social media and some news reports, most of the issues I have written on my list are not only contentious, they are polarised. That is to say, extreme groups quickly form in opposite corners and are often angry, aggressive and sometimes violent. Including right-winged conservative Christians, who can sometimes use violent words. Folks in the uncertain group seem to stand on the edges, anxiously wringing their hands, wanting to make things right, not knowing how, thinking at best, they might avoid a fight. Folks in the indifferent corner get busy with whatever they have at hand to distract them.
That place in the middle is a war zone. This is a place where folks should be able to come to discuss and reason, but alas, you enter at your own risk. Some responses to blog posts and media reports that I have read have been ugly and vicious, and certainly make me think twice before offering an opinion. I have observed that when an action or comment has been judged as offensive or insensitive by one group, the other group rises up in anger—lighted torches and pitch forks in hand to kill the beast. The various news media groups replay certain words, pictures and footage over and over again, not to soothe the savage beast, but to infuriate and stir the issue. It sells papers and gets ratings—and it fairly burns in cyber world as the passions of social media users boil over and spew acid and venom.
Here is another little secret, I not only like to be right, I like being liked. I have opinions and ideas about various matters, but that place in the middle is not a stable or safe place to talk. People lose perspective quickly, and words are often said that become attacks on character. Sometimes I think it is safer to just watch the footy and eat pizza.
Self-righteousness is not a Christian problem.
Interestingly, over the years I have heard accusations against Christians that they are self-righteous, and I won’t contend with that accusation. The point I would like to highlight here is that self-righteousness is not a Christian problem. It is a human problem. Self-righteousness seems to be a by-product of passion and commitment to a good cause. What a circus? Of course we need passion and commitment to good causes (and Christ is as good a cause as any other), but when, by default, we find ourselves sitting on our moral high-horse, looking down on those who have failed to meet the challenge, we have defeated the purpose of all that is good and right. This is what it is to be human. A vicious cycle of doing what is right, and finding out that righteousness doesn’t come that way. Righteousness only comes as a gift of Grace from God.
To read the full blog, see appendix below
Meredith Resce - Author of the 'Luella Linley - License to Meddle' series
Come, let us reason together
I am traditionally conservative, but I have been hearing what some of the social justice activists have been saying (particularly if they use a reasonable tone). To stand in the uncertain corner, wringing my hands, seems like a cop out when the issues are often real and they need attention, action and resolution. So what can be done when many ideas and proposed actions are met with aggressive resistance?
When listening to Bible teacher, Shane Willard, I was impressed by the teaching he gave concerning Biblical Hebrew culture. The Scriptures were studied thoroughly, meditated upon, examined. Interpretations were debated and God’s thoughts on the matter were sought. The Hebrew elders would meet at the gate to discuss, but a hallmark of how they went about their discussion was that a debate should always involve loads of questions, and that it should challenge. They believed God spoke through Scripture, but that there were thousands of ways He might speak through one Scripture. It was considered good form to ask intelligent questions. Author, Lois Tverberg, says in her book: ‘...debate was a central aspect of study—the rabbis believed that a mark of an excellent student was his ability to argue well.’ Further, she adds: ‘...we are not called to...unquestioningly repeat whatever we learn from a favorite teacher...we are to exercise wisdom and discernment, continually asking questions, weighing answers, seeking understanding and grounding our beliefs within the context of God’s Word...’ This culture is the culture that Jesus was immersed in, and in which he operated. This was a culture that represented a meeting of the minds to determine what God’s mind was on a matter.
Somewhere in the dark ages, following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity, the idea of asking questions and debating an issue got lost. It was the will of the Emperor or it was death. The known world of the time was established by brute force, and the Christianity that emerged from the 4th Century on was highly ordered, controlling and used fear of death to keep everyone in line. This did not foster a culture of debating an issue, and finding God’s mind. This fostered fear of being found a heretic and being tortured and/or burned at the stake. Dogma that emerged was inflexible, and Scripture was deemed to have one meaning, and that meaning was dispensed at the will of the clergy. Truth as decided by the clerical authorities was clearly written and proclaimed into the emerging Christian culture, and it was set in stone. This state of affairs continued for a thousand years before the period of enlightenment – the Renaissance and the Reformation.
Hebrew culture was about asking questions. They seemed to be inspired by questions, not afraid of them.
Our western Christian culture, though having emerged from the time of witch-hunts and burning heretics at the stake, still at times seems to be afraid of questions. A curious mind is still somehow regarded with suspicion, and yet history has told us that if the many researchers and scientists (who were often men and women of faith) hadn’t been curious and asked questions, then new understanding would not have been gained, and we would still live in the dark ages. There seems to be a residual fear that if we don’t hold to a traditional position, we are somehow a heretic. Almost as if all that is to be known is now known, and there is nothing more to be gained by further investigation. With it comes this idea that I need to have a position, and I need to be right—I have to know the truth or that won’t look good for the Gospel.
Remember, the gospel of Christ is not a political campaign, where we canvas for votes, so that people will vote for Jesus, based on what our policies are.
Is this how Christ asked us to win the lost?
We are afraid of questions, but why? Why are we afraid of not knowing it all—of not having all the answers? After all, it is not possible for anyone to know it all. Not the most studied scientist or philosopher, not the man they say is the smartest man who ever lived, not the most educated theological professor. Not you, not me. No one can possibly know it all.
Once you come to a place where you can accept that you don’t know everything, and that you will never know everything, and that is OK, then you can relax. We can all relax and not be so quick to defend an idea, a position, or tradition.
When it comes down to it, in life we all have opinions and positions, and sometimes we do hotly defend those positions. It is called being dogmatic. But did God ever ask us to make sure we knew everything, and to make sure that we were always right?
Or did He just ask us to seek Him?
Psalm 105:3-4 ‘...let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.’
Remember, when it comes to seeking truth, truth is not a what. Truth is a who. Jesus said: ‘I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life...’ John 14:6 (NIV)
I am forever grateful that while I speak and write and hope to encourage, that God is gracious. He doesn’t sit up in heaven and fume about all the things I don’t have right, or the things I’ve said that I have not understood correctly. He is pleased when we seek Him and love Him. Just as when a small child draws a stick picture of mummy and daddy, and writes in messy writing, ‘I love you’, the parent doesn’t punish the child because the drawing doesn’t look as it should if a master painter were to have done the portrait. The parent just loves being loved, even if the picture looks ridiculous. This is what God’s love, grace and mercy is about.
How hard is it to give up being right?
John 13:35 does not say, they will know we are His disciples by what we approve of and what we disapprove of.
It does however, say: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)
Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)
” Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace... ”
 Spangler, A., Tverberg, L., (2009) Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, Zondervan, USA
 I have spoken of history in broad brush-strokes, coming from my own studies in history. I encourage you to look closer at the history represented here, and do your own research.