On Wednesday Quarterback Tim Tebow cancelled an upcoming appearance at a Dallas Megachurch. The church’s controversial teachings and pastor Robert Jeffers seem to be the reason. Jeffers has spoken out vociferously against homosexuality, Islam and Mormonism.
Has Politics Taken Over
While I oppose Jeffers’ teachings, we all lose when religion becomes a political lightening rod. It happened when the media highlighted the conservative causes supported by the owner of Chick-fil-A. It happened when television stations played endless clips of President Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright.
We see it in the Jewish community as well. In Seattle, for example, a gay support group rescinded an invitation to an Israeli gay support group because some argued that having anyone from Israel speak would give unfair legitimacy to “Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
How did politics take over religious discourse? Faith is meant to bring people together, not drive them apart. It is about building bonds, not driving television ratings or newspaper sales. How can we shift the tone of the conversation?
1. Soften our language: “A soft answer turns away wrath,” says the Book of Proverbs, “but a harsh word stirs up anger.” “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Verbal violence, as Jonathan Sacks points out, is often a prelude to physical violence.
We need to be careful when we call someone or some teachings hateful. We need to be careful when we condemn groups or individuals or entire communities.
2. Reject censorship: Good people can disagree. Two of the early rabbis in Jewish history, Hillel and Shammai, disagreed on practically everything. And Hillel won most of their arugments.
Yet, they respected one another’s points of view, and a later rabbi concluded their disagreements aided Judaism’s search for truth and understanding of God’s will. Engagement and conversation works much better than muzzling and censorship.
3. Remember what unites us rather than divides us: It is human nature to focus on what differentiates us. We categorize people based on skin color, hair color, age, birthplace, religion, and so on. Each of these differences makes us who we are, and we should celebrate them.
Yet, when we define ourselves too narrowly, we limit our perspective. We limit our ability to engage with others. No matter how strongly we feel about an issue, we need to open ourselves up to the other side.
How To Disagree With Dignity
To listen is not to accept. To engage in conversation is not to give a stamp of approval. To show respect is not to give up your point of view.
Rather, Respecting others is a sign of strength, not weakness. It bespeaks courage, not cowardice. It lends itself to dignity and not division.
None of us have a monopoly on God’s truth. Let us learn to live with that wisdom and humility.
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