Q & R: Differing without dividing

A reader asks a really important question …

Q: The first mention of your name I heard was in an NPR story where many Christian leaders were deeming your words ‘heresy’. This claim made
me want to read your work 🙂
I was raised mostly in Nashville, TN, the so-called “buckle” of the
bible belt. Since I left for college in nearby Chattanooga, TN, my
spirit has been awakened to, as you aptly put it, a new kind of
. I’ve just read your latest book, as well as A Generous
I wish I had written both books—you articulate perfectly
much of what I already feel and provide me with new questions to ask
which I had not yet contemplated. Your work is brilliant and I honor
your for it.
But I must admit that, with your help, I’ve become quite the radical
among my conservative community in Nashville. For example, i posted
something recently on Facebook which criticized Israel’s probable plan
to bomb Iran. You would not believe the torrent of response it
received among people who are extremely close to me. I wondered how
if this small comment could give rise to such dispute among my friends
and family, how would they react to the wealth of “deviant” thoughts
which dwell in my ever-pondering head.
This has been a long preamble to my question which is: How do I
continue to ask big questions about God, Christianity, and life in
general, while coming up with potentially divisive answers, without
harming my relationships which I value so dearly? When do I publicize
my ideas and when do I keep them shut up in order not to offend?
Thank you for reading my question and for encouraging me with all of
your work.

R: I wish I had the perfect answer to this. Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking in North Carolina and I was asked to talk about the cost one pays for departing from conventional paths. The cost is high. Jesus knew this most painfully, and told us it wouldn’t be different for us. The reason “suffering for Christ” is so rare, I think, is that so few actually stand for the things Christ stood for. The disciple, he said, is not above the teacher.
But I also think of Paul’s words (Romans 12): “As far as it is possible with you, be at peace with everyone.” There’s a lot of “suffering for Christ” that is actually suffering for our own arrogance, insensitivity, unwisdom, and buffoonery. (I speak from experience.)
So the challenge is to differ courageously, but graciously – to differ boldly but gently. Sometimes this involves intrigue and aesthetics rather than polemics – Jesus spoke in parables so that people would “get it” when they were ready and not when they weren’t. Sometimes it involves silence – Jesus didn’t answer poorly framed questions that empowered the inquisitors but missed the point. Sometimes it involves answering questions with questions, as Jesus did with the rich young ruler – whose question was based on assumptions that needed questioning. Sometimes it involves emphasizing agreement – as Jesus did when he was asked what the greatest commandment was; he let his questioner answer the question and simply agreed with him. Sometimes it involves remaining silent for a time, as Jesus did before the Sanhedrin, and letting people assume the worst – knowing that their unfair judgment is actually an essential part of the unfolding drama.
Maybe others would like to offer their insights and responses to your question over on facebook – I’ll be interested to see what others add as well. May we be diligent to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, but may we also be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak with boldness. And when we blow it, as we will – either on the side of cowardice or pugilism – may we quickly and humbly admit it.
Thanks again for your question – you’re in my prayers today, as are all who are seeking the courage to differ graciously.