The Fine Art of Arguing
My sister tells a story (probably not true) about my parents getting into a tiff when we were all much younger. My mother was on the way to church in the middle of their argument and she came to my father, turned her back to him and asked him to zip up her dress. He grabbed the zipper in his ire and yanked it up and down a few times saying snottily, “Zip, Zip, Zip!”
A couple of hours later my mother came home and saw our clunker of a car jacked up in the driveway as usual with a pair of legs sticking out from under it. Remembering her encounter with my father earlier she decided to get even. She reached down and grabbed the zipper on his pants and yanked it up and down, “Zip, Zip, Zip!” Then she stormed into the house where to her chagrin she saw my father sitting on the couch watching TV.
She told her story to my father and they ran out together to see our neighbor who had come over to help my dad work on the car, climbing out from under our vehicle with a huge knot on his forehead and a totally bewildered look on his face.
I really don’t think that happened. But I do know that we used to know how to have arguments and disagreements on a number of different levels that allowed us to express our opinions, vent our emotions, find some kind of clarity and understanding, and come away from the fray better off for having had it. No so today. We have forgotten how to argue. Whether it is in the public political arena or the closed boardroom of the church, civility and conscience has gone out the window and been replaced with name calling, vilifying, and mean-spirited bitterness.
Our politicians run “attack ads,” (we even have a name for them) that cleverly disguise truth, distort facts, and usually make no mention of issues. They also seldom offer solutions. Our religious disagreements resort to caricatures of entire populations, emotional characterizations of the other side, and blatant misrepresentations of position and purpose, often in the name of whatever theology we aspire to.
For the sake of proving our point (though I am usually not sure what the point is) we castrate and crucify people that we do not know, have never tried to understand, and certainly failed to listen too. The result is deeper divides, more intense polarity, and battles being fought over “principles” that are merely excuses for hatred on both sides of the equation.
Here’s an example. I am a Christian. There is a battle raging in my community over a proposed mosque. We have chosen sides, thrown down our gauntlets, and run into the war screaming and cursing our enemies. We have decided on our principles, staked out our moral high ground, and let fly the arrows of our discontent. And friends, we are wrong. I don’t have an answer to the issue of the mosque but I am pretty sure of this, not every Muslim is a radical, suicide bombing, jihadists. Nor is every Christian who has concerns about this project a bigoted, fear mongering, hypocrite. I am embarrassed when I hear some of my friends say horrible things about Islam without knowing or seeking to understand. (The Scripture that I love has some stories that I hope I have the opportunity to explain to non-believers before they call my Holy God a baby killer, and a male chauvinist pig.) And I have been just as mortified when people that I care about have condoned witch-hunts, and intimidation, and even participated themselves in attacks upon Godly leaders and wonderful congregations in our community that are the other side of the debate from them.
One thing I know about arguing, these tactics only separate us further and never lead to resolution and reconciliation. If the downward spiral of our own political system has shown us anything it is that “attack ads” in the media or on our Facebook blogs drive us into paralysis and hate. They do not move us toward understanding or peace.
Perhaps it’s not fair of me to walk a middle road and not take a specific side so, okay, here’s my position. I am not an expert on the Koran but I do not believe that the intention of the Muslim community in Rutherford County is to build a terrorist training camp in middle Tennessee. Listen, we have lived with and worked with and even prayed with some of the very people that now we are accusing of outlandish things. To you guys that I love who stand against the mosque, you are wrong in using the name of Christ to justify unfounded characterizations and accusations. You have every right to be against the mosque. Fight against it vigorously on the grounds that they circumvented our building codes, that they are proposing a facility that is far beyond the reasonable expectation of need in our city, or even that we are a Christian community and we stand against any non-Christian enterprise. Fight them there but listen to their hearts while you do battle.
And to my friends who are just as viciously slandering and maligning your Christian brothers because they disagree with you, you are wrong. Let me be blunt, Allen Jackson is a good man, a gifted leader that loves our community, our country and our God. WOC is a lighthouse on our horizon that gives tirelessly and sacrificially back to our county. And until the conflict started many of you who now attack Pastor Jackson and WOC were supporters and admires of these people. If you are against their position in this matter (or your perception of their position) fight them. Take them to task for their misunderstanding of Scripture. Debate them over the theological nuances of love your enemy and turn the other cheek. But when you post invitations to dig up dirt or take quotes out of context you are certainly no better than the cartoon creatures of stupidity that you have created on the other side of the discussion.
This is a crucial and future-changing argument we are having. It has ramifications that reach far beyond the boundaries of this community or even our generation. As a Christ follower I approach it with both fear over the potential harm a wrong decision might do and with confidence that ultimately the battle is the Lord’s. And I am determined that an argument of such magnitude deserves, really demands, to be handled with civility, rationality, and compassion. It is the only possibility we have of successfully navigating this conflict. In the name of Jesus I implore us all to rethink the way we argue and if not, to Zip, Zip, Zip it up.
Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who is frustrated and embarrassed by others who choose to throw insults instead of talking calmly.
I appreciate your honesty, and agree that there can be civil arguments, and that it really isn't an oxymoron.
Blessings from Canada.