Q & R: Courage to differ ... graciously?
Here's the Q:
I've just finished reading "A New Kind of Christianity". I LOVED it! It was thought provoking, challenging, refreshing and hit the nail on the head time and time again. I frequently found myself saying "Yes! That's exactly it!" and hungrily devoured every page. There are very few non-fiction books (especially Christian ones!) that I just can't put down. Brilliant!
One paragraph, right at the end, particularly struck a chord with me. It spoke about having the courage to differ and the grace to differ graciously. I am an openly gay woman who (without going into too much of my life story) has once again found herself working and living with evangelical Christians (a situation I thought I'd never be in again!) and live in an odd tension between two very different worlds: the gay community and "the church". Those Christians I live and work with/for don't really think being gay is ok (but of course love me… the sinner?... anyway!) and seem to tolerate my other lesbian life so long as I don't shout about it. It's a sort of don't ask/don't tell policy. I have (gay) friends who say I'm a "missionary" to the Christians and to be honest I can't help but feel there is some truth to that, but I struggle with speaking up. I want to have the courage to differ, but so often I just chicken out and say nothing as if I agree. You didn't say much about how you learnt to have the courage to differ. I would be fascinated to hear more. Thank you for your time,
Here's the R:
First, thanks for your question. I know all the lgbt folk who read my blog will appreciate your spirit and I hope the non-lgbt folk will also respect your wonderful attitude.
The short answer to your question is "process of elimination."
I tried "lacking courage to differ at all." I just kept silent when I heard people say things that appalled me. I didn't want to bother them, or I didn't want to cause a stir, so I just held my tongue. Eventually, I realized that by my silence I was giving tacit support to the status quo, so I couldn't keep silent any longer.
Then I tried "having the courage to differ ungraciously." I sometimes replied snarkily, tensely, or angrily. That tended to increase resistance to what I was trying to say.
Gradually I learned that the way of Christ is to have the courage to differ but to do so graciously, knowing that it is more important to "win" over my own fear or defensiveness than it is to "win" an argument. The less you try to win over anybody else, the more you reflect the way of Christ - whose power is made perfect in meekness, gentleness, and courageous kindness.
This is always tested - people are sometimes quite harsh and one is tempted to respond harshly. But at that moment the power of Christ is there, if I am humble enough to access it, to walk humbly and let the other person express themselves as aggressively as they need to, without the need to defend myself or counter-attack.
I often slip up, as readers of this blog quite often remind me! But what can one do but admit it, learn a lesson, and get up again and keep pressing on?
God bless you in your missionary work, sister!