In the last few weeks, I have become acutely aware of the fact that we evangelicals are horrible participants in discussions, particularly on social media.
I am fortunate to have friends from a wide variety of faiths and religious backgrounds, and recently I’ve seen several of them publicly wrestling with tough, real-life questions. Through the sincerity of their questions, they have made themselves vulnerable, opening their hearts to the world.
And I have been appalled at the way many well-meaning evangelicals have completely derailed the conversations with pat, predictable answers that harm more than they help. Most of the time, these answers don’t even address the question and aren’t relevant to the discussion. Why do we do this?
Math has always come really easily for me.
From the time I first learned how to add and subtract, I’ve had this innate ability to see the answer long before others. I never had to memorize multiplication tables because I could do the calculations immediately in my head. I could shout out the answer to a problem before anyone else could even begin working it out, and I was rarely wrong.
The first couple of times I did this, everyone was impressed. Quickly, though, my immediate answers started to annoy my classmates. I thought I was being helpful (and truth be told, I was having fun), but my casual responses made them feel like I was showing off. To my friends, I was showboating – even arrogant – with my solutions. Even worse, by discouraging them from working out the answers for themselves, I was preventing them from learning.
Fractions and long division came as naturally to me as the multiplication tables, but as the problems became more complex, I started getting my answers wrong more frequently. At first, I could convince myself that I’d simply misread the problem, but eventually I had to admit that my easy answers were flat out incorrect. Then I’d have to go back and actually work out the math to see what I’d done wrong.
When I started learning more advanced mathematics like algebra and trigonometry, the answers that I got in my head were more often wrong than they were right. I was forced to admit that I needed to work out every problem if I wanted to get the correct answer, but since I’d spent my entire life skipping steps and figuring the problems in my head, I was woefully unprepared to do the work. I struggled with math for the first time in my life as I had to relearn all of the processes that my fellow classmates had been doing for years.
I think that, as evangelicals participating in cultural discussions, we tend to make a lot of those exact same mistakes in our conversations about sensitive issues.
When we respond to our friends with trite, quick answers, we’re devaluing the very real struggle that they are working through. We’re telling them that the answer is easy – it’s right there in front of them, how could they be confused?
And the message we are sending with these quick answers is far from the love and respect that Christ modeled for us.
Though we are trying to open the doors of truth for them, we are actually shutting them off from the very gospel that they seek. By shouting our answers, we are preventing our friends from wrestling with these same answers for themselves.
Instead, we should intentionally and patiently journey with our friends in seeking truth. They may very well come to the same conclusions we do, but through the learning process, their faith will grow stronger than it was before. As we journey with them, we may find that our own initial answers were incomplete, and thus our faith will be strengthened in the process. Or, we may come to realize that our original conclusions were completely wrong, and we ourselves need to rediscover how to engage with tough issues.
As evangelicals, we have a history of approaching questions with arrogance and judgmentalism, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s join hands with our friends and walk with them to discover truth, so that their faith – and ours – might be deepened.