I recently got into a heated discussion with a friend of a friend via Facebook, about Biblical responses to a current political issue. Based on what I was saying, my conversation partner quickly pigeonholed me as a particular type of Christian who could be discounted, and I in response came to the conclusion that this was not someone who was going to listen to what I was going to say.
Like a lot of people in our globalised world, I spend a lot of time on social media. I can remember that when I was kid it was expected that the ‘information superhighway’ of the Internet was going to unite the world and help us understand each other. However, my experience on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter has been that the two things happen:
1. we surround ourselves with people who have similar experiences and views to us
2. when we do come into contact with people with experiences or views that are really different to ours, we end up in big, horrible, ugly arguments
I think it can be especially ugly when we end up in arguments about the Bible, and I’ve had my fair share of responsibility for them. It can be so easy to end up just pushing what I already think the Bible has to say on a given topic, rather than listening to what God might have to say to me through my sister or brother who is reading the same scripture. Because I have been bothered by this experience I have made a conscious decision to try to engage in discussions with a posture of love. When I tried that in the discussion, and invited my friend-of-a-friend to do the same, I was pleasantly surprised. When we agreed to read the scripture together and listen to what the other saw we were able to have a much more respectable discussion. But this required putting aside our own presumptions for a moment in order to make space to hear the reading of someone else.
Throughout Paul’s letters he uses the body as a parable for the church. He says that all the different parts of the body have different functions but they all need each other. Each part will fail if it is separated from the whole. So I wonder what we might miss if we write off the Biblical interpretations of the people we disagree with. I think that whether we differ in denomination, political conviction, class, gender or culture we need to be listening to each other so that we can receive a fuller picture of what God’ Spirit is saying to the church through the Bible. These differences mean that we see what is going on in the Bible from different angles. If we can come to the text from our different directions in a posture of love, I think we have a better chance of hearing what other parts of this diverse body are saying.
Whether we’re reading together on Facebook or at an evening Bible study group, I think that in order to do this we need to prepare to read together through prayer. What I have been trying is taking some time before approaching the text to direct love toward the people I will be reading with, through prayer. I start off by praying for someone who is close to me, by wishing goodwill for them. After a while I will take some time to pray for love for someone who I feel less close to. Finally, I take some time to pray for love for someone who I don’t get along with well, as see if I can wish them goodwill as well.