I follow a number of Church of Christ internet forums. I don’t have the time to participate as I once did, but I do enjoy seeing what people find interesting or controversial – and I pitch in now and then.
If you read through some of these discussions, you soon realize that perhaps the biggest mistake we make (and I’m guilty, too) is not listening to the other side. We are bad to either assume we know what they really think or else we read for the purpose of refuting their argument, rather than learning from their argument.
I’m sure we’ve all participated in verbal exchanges where the other person spent his listening time coming up with arguments rather than actually listening. It’s rude. It makes people angry. It wastes a lot of time. And we do the same thing in our written conversations.
Now communication is difficult. Even highly skilled writers can be easily misunderstood. Over the internet, agreement can sound like sarcasm, whimsy like stupidity. Therefore, it’s imperative that before we take offense or write that 1,500-word, flaming post, we take the time to be sure we’ve understood.
I think at least 1 in 5 posts should be along the lines of: “Are you saying X? or Y?” or ‘Let me repeat what I think I hear you saying so you can tell me whether I’ve understood.” These kinds of messages are essential. They tell the other person that you care enough to be sure you’ve heard correctly – meaning you respect both the person and the discussion.
I think this one thing would shorten most discussions by half or more. Some would be entirely eliminated. I mean, I’ve seen discussions go on literally for 5 days, finally ending when the two sides realize that they actually agree — and always have.
Tragically, the same problem of not listening infuses our internal discussions. For example, when Freed Hardeman University held a discussion (a polite debate) between progressive and conservative members of the Churches of Christ on whether instrumental music is a salvation issue, the university announced — before the discussion even began — that the position of the Bible department is that instrumental music is in fact a salvation issue.
Now, had I been the progressive speaker, I’d have been seriously tempted to walk off the stage and never come back. I mean, they announced their position before the guy even said a word — plainly telling the audience that there was nothing he could possibly say to change their minds, which tells the audience they have nothing to learn from this man. It was, at the least, rude. But, worse yet, it was indicative of why our divisions never heal — we refuse to listen to each other.
That’s right. We’re too cussedly proud to even consider the possibility that we might be persuaded. And such arrogance is sinful. (And, I should add, sometimes politics and keeping the donors happy affects our willingness to see the truth.)
I honestly don’t know how to overcome this pride that so infects our fellowship. But I know this much: until we do, God will not bless our work, and unity will remain unattainable.