Facts are stubborn things, said John Adams. But being stubborn does not always win you an argument. We have all been in “discussions” in which we were correct and the simpleton on the other side of the table was not. We laid out the facts as plainly as anyone could. And they remained unconvinced.
Maybe they found comfort in character assassination, or muddied the waters with irrelevant information. Maybe they just threw up their hands and left the room. Maybe they even took a swing at you. What they didn’t do, though, is change their mind. Facts had nothing to do with their position, either before or after the discussion.
We can congratulate ourselves on our factualness and denigrate them for their willful ignorance. Or we can try something else. Let me suggest an alternative course of action:
First, we should acknowledge that none of us is truly open-minded. We all believe what supports our preconceived notions and reject what doesn’t. Yes, we can overcome that and actually learn something. But that’s not our tendency. We shouldn’t expect more than that of others. That’s an example of putting “the Golden Rule” of Luke 6:31 into action.
Second, we should lose the attitude. Ridicule and name-calling seldom persuade. If you give your friend an excuse to reject your words of correction, they probably will. Their “feelings” are not the most important consideration, but they are not meaningless, either. Our speech must always be “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).
Third, we should shun labels. One “wrong” person is not like another, necessarily. If we get to the “pearls before swine” place with Mr. A, we cannot assume Ms. B is a pig just because she holds a similar position. “All Democrats are baby-killers.” “All Republicans are racists.” “All welfare recipients are lazy.” “All Muslims are dangerous.” “All immigrants are criminals.” All of these generalizations are false — and if we are forced to make the accusation to the face of the people in question, we will probably admit that we know they are false. We want to be judged as individuals; we should extend the same courtesy to others (Luke 6:31).
Fourth, we should think long and hard about the topics about which we choose to argue, as well as the situations in which we argue them. If we know Jesus will be glorified by our words and behavior in the end, certainly we should take whatever principled, Bible-based stand is appropriate. But let’s be honest; most of the arguments we get into are far more about glorifying ourselves than glorifying Him. We are not trying to win souls to Jesus; we are trying to win minds to our own points of view. As gratifying as that may be to our egos, we should have our eyes on more noble pursuits. Our principled stand for (or against) gun control, for instance, will only make us appear to be naïve (or cruel) to the one who disagrees with us. And do we really think that our powers of persuasion are adequate to sway our opponents before they get emotionally involved. No, the far more likely scenario is that they convince themselves we are not nearly as Christlike as we claim to be, and our influence with them will be damaged. Even when the issue regards a Biblical principle such as the importance of work and/or charity, the discussion may do more harm than good. A good rule of thumb is, do we appeal to the Bible to make our case or to some other source? If we appeal to the Bible, at least we are showing that we care about Jesus’ words on the subject; if they continue to disagree with us, their issue is then with the Lord, not us. If, on the other hand, we appeal to a secular source or our own wisdom, we are simply claiming to be smarter than our opponents. That is not a 1 Peter 4:11 sort of argument.
In the end, we are the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). We owe it to the Name we wear to behave as such at all times — no matter how “right” we perceive ourselves to be.