One of the primary reasons we struggle with differing views on any subject is that we believe acceptance equals agreement. That is, to accept a person or their argument is to agree with them. As a result, we conclude that we cannot accept the person for fear of being seen as agreeing with them. However, there is a better way.
Bruxy Cavey, Teaching Pastor at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON., addresses this very concern.
“Acceptance does not equal agreement. When we confuse the two we withhold acceptance in order to show disagreement. Jesus shows us a better way.”
As we attempt to navigate a way forward we need to keep this idea in mind. While we can differ greatly on any issue, we will only move forward towards thoughtful conversation when all parties involved understand that acceptance does not equal agreement.
Us versus Them
When we withhold acceptance in order to show disagreement, we immediately create an Us versus Them situation. In this scenario, our position is defined by what side we stand on. As a result, our arguments will tend to be shaped more by the things we’re against, than the things we are for.
An Us versus Them mentality will always create this polarizing effect, never bringing people together, but only separating people more and more. Healthy conversation will never happen in such a context.
Us versus Them is ultimately rooted in fear. When we do not understand something or someone, we tend towards fear. Fear of the unknown, then, can often lead to anger and anger to hate. And, from the place of hate flows fear-based rhetoric that pushes the other further and further away.
Fear does that. It has a polarizing effect on people. Fear isn’t interested in building bridges, only walls. Fear only leads towards isolation. Fear separates. Fear keeps the other at bay. Love, however, casts out all fear.
Love casts out all fear
When love, not fear, lies at the center of who we are, we will look for ways to build bridges, not walls. When we allow the Spirit of God, who always seeks to bring people together, to cultivate within us a posture formed by self-giving, others-centred love, fear will suffer defeat.
Love will draw people together, even when they disagree, because it sees in the other someone created in love by God, fashioned as God’s image-bearer. We have this in common.
Love gives us eyes to see people as they really are, past the externals to the core of their humanity. Love becomes the catalyst that enables us, not to ignore differences, but to see past them to the person who holds them. Polarizations disappear when love, not fear, is allowed to take centre stage in our lives.
As Dan White Jr. once wrote,
“A polarized civilization wants us to ‘take sides’ but God’s love invites us into paradox and complexity that will baffle the world.”
When we as followers of Jesus demonstrate love towards all people, especially towards those with whom we disagree, it sends a very powerful, kingdom of God message to others. If we only love those who love us, we will have little to offer a world deeply divided along tribalistic lines.
Love for and towards the other is a Jesus-centred model he both taught and demonstrated in his life and death. And, when we follow his example, we continue to live within that posture of love – towards neighbour and enemy.
Love sees and accepts the faults of others. And, rather than allow those faults to separate us, we should allow them to form a common bond that pulls us toward one other as we strive to move towards Christ who offers forgiveness and reconciliation for us all.
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you now love one another. By this all people will know that you are my followers, by the love you have for one another.” (Jesus in John 13:34-35).
Perfect love casts out all fear.
Us versus Them narrows and restricts the Gospel’s wide embrace. Its invitation extends only to those like us; those who look like us, act like us, and believe just like us.
The Gospel, however, does away with all notions. In the Gospel of the kingdom of God, Us versus Them is replaced with just, Us. In essence, there is no Us or Them, there’s just Us.
As Gungor wrote, “If it’s us or them, it’s us for them.”
Through Jesus, the wall of hostility is broken down and all are welcomed inside. The Gospel is an invitation for the whosoever will come! The thirsty, hungry, searching, lonely, abandoned, ostracized, disenfranchised, and afraid are all welcomed to come inside and enjoy the King’s feast!
There is no Members Only sign on the doors of the kingdom of God. The doors are open wide and Jesus invites all of us to join him on the inside.
An Us or Them mentality, on the other hand, offers no such feast because its doors are closely monitored. Only certain kinds of people are permitted access. Only Private Property and Members Only signs hang outside of the doors of Us versus Them. Access is restricted to only those like us.
But there is no Us or Them, there’s just Us.
Charting a way forward
When love, not fear, is permitted to occupy the centre of our lives, differences will not be dismissed, but will instead be viewed as reasons to engage in meaningful conversation. We only fear those things we do not understand and the only way through fear is to move towards understanding. And, understanding will only happen when we take the time to listen to our different stories.
Story-telling and active listening will gradually dissolve fear and anger, providing us with the basic ingredient we all need to possess if we are to truly hear one another and move forward together – love.
More than ever, we who call the Church home need to model this in a world that is increasingly dominated by fear, isolation, and tribalism. May God help us in this common task.