Christmas is often a special time with family. For many, this is the most joyous time of year. For others, time with family can be stressful. Family is unique in its special bonds, beyond difference in perspectives, personality types, tastes, or attitudes.
2016 has been a year of turbulence, social challenge, and discontent. I’ve heard many times this year, “I can’t believe [relative/friend] actually believes [opinion I do not share.]” Or the more charged version: “I can’t believe that person says they are a Christian and …” And now, it’s Christmas, and many of us are likely to be people whose perspectives we do not share.
Our approach is clear: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22–23. So, how should we, as Christians, be lights in the world at Christmas, especially in relating to people whose viewpoints conflict with our own?
A look into the past
Please allow me this brief tangent into American History; it will be clear in a minute.
In the 1950’s, many Americans were gripped by a fear of communism. Communist ideology had spread rapidly in places like Russia and China, leading to revolutions, unrest, and religious persecution. Many feared its spread, and one US Senator, Joseph McCarthy, made it a personal crusade to root out zealots and sympathizers, claimed to prevent them from “infecting” larger groups of people. McCarthy’s approach, tactics, and impact are still viewed as one of the darker episodes in modern American history.
The term “McCarthyism” is still with us today. Merriam-Webster defines McCarthyism as “the use of tactics involving personal attacks on individuals by means of widely publicized indiscriminate allegations especially on the basis of unsubstantiated charges.” In 2016, instead of one senator leading with these tactics, we have technology giving millions the opportunity to do the same. This Crowdsourced McCarthyism has become a byproduct of our modern age. In too many ways, it has overwhelmed the dialogue, nuance, and subtlety that are so often required for civilized discourse, problem-solving and progress.
Our call, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
24-hour news cycle
The 24-hour news cycle of the last decade has shifted to a “24-hour analysis cycle” where opinions about the news come faster than news. This rush to judgment subjects every position, sometimes a single sentence, to as eight-word headline purporting one category of extremism or another. And we are all encouraged to join in, share our “take” on everything, regardless of how little we might actually know. And in all that rush to judge, we are losing sight of real facts to “fake news.” Oh Lord, Maranatha!
“Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.” Proverbs 26:17
How, practically can we avoid these “rush to judgment” temptations?
Stay humble. Don’t be so proud of your own thinking that you cannot listen to others.
Assume you don’t have all the information. And assume there is nuance that you may not be seeing.
Let your actions speak for you (1 John 3:18).
My grandfather taught me, “Talk is cheap.” Now I tell my kids, “Talk is cheap. Social media posts are cheaper.”
Jesus in action
The first eight chapters of the Book of John show Jesus in action. Yes, he speaks, but his captured words were spoken in dialogue, up close, with fishermen, thieves, adulterers, despised foreigners, women, and tax collectors. His actions were personal, not political. He was not offering sweeping analyses of social trends, to persuade those in power to adjust the course of society. He spoke to individuals. He was rooted in the moment. He spoke absolute truth, for changing the heart of each person.
If you are blessed to have family time this Christmas, pray for the Spirit to breathe life to your words. Pray you are filled with joy. It is a birthday party, after all. And if you see tension, conflict or arguing, pray that God will use you as a peace-maker. Unlike Jesus, we don’t necessarily get to know all the events that shaped other people’s perspectives. Let me add my own prayer that grace would guide you to grow closer to each person God blesses you with this season.
About the author
Chris Manrodt chairs First Free’s elder board, and is also a small group leader. He and his wife Lisa have three children. Chris leads a data analytics team for a medical device company. He studied Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University, and Management of Technology at the University of Minnesota. When not working or traveling with his family, he is usually hitting the weights or experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.