On Dealing with Difference

Suppose for a moment you deeply disagree with a friend or family member. What do you do?

Imagine that the family member or friend does something bad. How do you handle it?

I know I don’t know, but I know things I have done that haven’t worked or been wrong.

Given the Christianity that formed my childhood, the easiest thing for me to do is forget it. I was “moving on” before there was a moveon.com. God and my pastor know the sins, and they are many I have committed: my judgment is the judgment by which I wish to be judged.

In fact, this is generally right when the “prodigal” comes home or the sinner repents. However, it is utterly inadequate for an on-going relationship with a person who believes after they have nothing about which to repent. If the prodigal rejoices in his pig-stye, or even claims that what you think of as a pig stye is his idea of a home, then you have a problem.

A person is demeaned when their opinions are not taken seriously enough to demand a response. If “socialized medicine” is an important good, then my opposition to it should be taken seriously and count against me. If I don’t want to patted on the head, charitable condescension, then I should not do it to others. A great friend points out my common confusion of charity with being “nice.”

Being too “polite” or “nice” to call a bad thing bad turns niceness and politeness into evils.

My other reaction, then, has been pull out of relationships. This might be necessary if a person continues to mentally or physically abuse, as in the case of friends with bad spouses, but hasn’t always been charitable either. What if, for example, the man is a co-worker and we must continue to see each other daily? Sacred Scripture points out that I should not “separate myself” from him, because if I did so I could not live.

So my better reaction has been to agree to disagree. Issues will come up and both of us will express our deep intolerance for the other’s point of view, but then charity demands that I see the good in the other person unless that somehow enables their evil. This is the hard balance: if I think my neighbor “living in sin” is harming community values, then how do I express my disdain for the action, but my love for him?

I have found no sure formula and can only pray and attempt to muddle through living out the Gospel the best I can and witnessing to the truth.

The problem is compounded with fellow believers. My church, I think, cannot continue fellowship with someone who calls sin a good or is “not trying.” If a man hits his wife, then the church cannot accept him into full communion until he repents and acts on that repentance. (“Sorry, sorry,” is not enough.) My rule: “Err on the side of grace, but be willing to draw a line.”

Employment and fellowship are not basic human rights. One can be treated with dignity without being a best friend, an employee, or a member in good standing of a church. In fact, it honors the choices of a fellow human being to say: “Not here. Not with us.”

And yet given the technology we have, even this is not so simple. The Father looked for the Prodigal from a distance, but now the Father has Facebook. And so I think boundaries must be set, but they are harder to set than once they were.

Should a Christian ever “disown” a person?

I think so. Paul talks of delivering a man to the evil one for the salvation of his soul. Of course, this does not mean my acting, but giving over a person for spiritual action. If I am wrong, and I must always remember I might think I am following God when I am the Pharisee or the evil one, then no harm can come of it. If I am right, great good, even in great pain, will follow.

This much I know: disapproval causes pain and nobody, certainly not me, should inflict pain without careful thought. My disapproval has not always been charitable or well thought. Sometimes the complexity of living in a fallen world is overwhelming . . . but at that point I pray to God to stand for Truth as I see it, make beauty where I can, and love people as much as I can.

For the world, the flesh, and the Devil, in me especially, I can give no quarter at all.

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”


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