I live in a part of the country where basketball is life. There are numerous teams to give your allegiance to. All of them have storied histories. Many of them have past championships to celebrate.
In North Carolina, most kids learn that they have to pick an allegiance from the big schools: University of North Carolina, Duke University, or North Carolina State University are the most popular favorites.
To be transparent, I’m a Tarheel fan. My grandfather loved the Tarheels, and I honestly would feel like I’m betraying a sacred trust to pick another team.
One of my best friends, however, is a Duke fan. This can be a very contentious situation in our region. These two fanbases are, at times, at war. We’ve been friends for years, through many different seasons of life, and this tension has provided a lot of comedy. It’s never become a point of tension.
Why? Because it’s just a team.
We teach our kids to understand that there are differences between them and others, but we also show them to recognize and celebrate those differences. In the best case, we’re teaching our kids that just because another kid is different, that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends.
But… Is that how we live?
Are we, as adults, willing to have deep, meaningful relationships with people who are very different than us? Are we ready to navigate the tension and learn from different perspectives?
I’m afraid that we can do better.
What are some of the differences that cause disconnection?
Our political landscape is polarized. We connect deeply to the causes, politicians, and platforms we support. But… We are also hypersensitive on all sides. It’s quite odd to watch someone yell (in anger) about how another side is so sensitive. We’re told to “stay triggered” and “never forget.” Is this good for us?
The unique thing about our current context is that, no matter what your political affiliation, you can find news outlets, radio hosts, YouTube personalities, celebrities, writers, and bloggers who share your perspective. You don’t naturally encounter different opinions in this ecosystem. When you do, they feel a little like a virus that’s been introduced into your body. You work to fight them off.
This can be called “tribalism.”
You find your tribe. You stay in your tribe. Anything outside of your tribe is evil. Those who do not share the values and perspectives of your tribe are the enemy. Your goal is to fight other tribes, show their weaknesses, and hopefully win some to your tribe.
I think it’s important to note that no political party completely identifies with the platform of Scripture. The Scriptures point us to identities that we should, as a greater society, be living out, and no singular political perspective ultimately carries that identity.
Perhaps instead of trying to argue our point we could greatly benefit from understanding someone else’s perspective. You might come to find that there are different perspectives that you might not agree with, but you can learn to understand.
The global church is the Bride of Christ. It’s impossible to love a man and dislike his wife, as the “two become one” (Ephesians 5:31-32). It’s impossible to love Jesus and dislike the Church.
I believe that the local church is the hope of the world. I’ve given much of my adult life to serving the church, planting a church, and leveraging resources to help others do the same. The Church is beautiful, complex, diverse, and very much alive.
The local expression of the Church is complex. It’s nuanced around culture and preferences and styles. What kind of music should a church sing? How should the preacher dress? What’s the version of the Scriptures that we’ll preach from?
It’s quite common to find conflict around our differences.
We create conflict based on our perspectives of the Scriptures, and our “theology” betrays our unity.
Are you Calvinist or Armenian? Are you Complementarian or Egalitarian? Are you Secessionist or Charismatic?
Maybe it’s a style that creates the conflict. Do you dress casual? Does your preacher use conversational language? Do you sing from a hymnal?
It’s far too easy to elevate our preferences to absolutes. When we do that, we will inevitably create unnecessary conflict around our differences.
Every generation has a set of cultural issues that it processes culturally. In generations past, it’s been the use and abuse of alcohol, race and prejudice, marriage and divorce, and the adaptation of technology. Many could be listed that we are processing as a culture today.
These issues affect us deeply. These issues are very emotional and evoke high-level responses. They are not simple, and yet we often pick sides simply.
The complications for cultural issues is they always involve people, and often involve people we love. You couldn’t talk about the abuse of alcohol in the 1920s without someone knowing a story of someone affected by alcohol abuse, and often that story was very personal.
Wouldn’t we be served better by listening to other’s positions when they see an issue from a different perspective rather than broadcasting our overly simplified, often arrogant, platitudes?
What happens when we encounter these differences? Often it’s conflict. We have grown so comfortable in our tribes that outside perspectives are scary and intimidating. When these perspectives pop up, we attack… not just the idea, but the person behind the idea.
How many relationships have been sacrificed over an opinion? How many conflicts have been born from a differing political perspective? How often have broken off a relationship because we just don’t see “eye to eye”?
Be honest with yourself… Are you arguing over a politician that you’ve never met and don’t have a personal relationship with, but willing to sacrifice a relationship with someone that you’re face-to-face with over this differing perspective? Are you allowing a preference to become an absolute and create unnecessary conflict?
Are you willing letting differences create conflict?
LET’S DO BETTER
If we can tell our kids that differences don’t mean you can’t be friends, then let’s all agree that we can do better!
When you feel a tendency towards conflict, get curious.
Get curious about why the person feels the way they do. Get curious about how they ended up at their perspective. Get curious about their story and how it’s informed their position. Get curious about what’s important to them.
Cultivating an instinct for curiosity will help you disarm a lot of conflicts, especially self-imposed conflict. We don’t have to find conflict in our differences. Instead, we can actually reach a point where we celebrate our differences.
So… We have different political views? We can still be friends. We prefer different styles of worship at church? We can still be friends. We hold different cultural views? We can still be friends.
Why? Because friends are more important than preferences and perspectives.
If you let Him, God will use people who are different to make a difference in your life. Those friends, the ones who are different, will keep us from living blind, help us see things we’d never otherwise see, and hold us accountable to live out the truth.
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What’s one thing you’ve made an absolute that’s really just a preference? How can you work to celebrate differences instead of creating conflict around your preferences?