by Dan Weyerhaeuser, Senior Pastor
I am so grateful for our Forums at Lakeland this last year. Our Forum Focus Group has hosted several opportunities for us to meet as a church and discuss critical issues happening in culture. One of those issues has been the contention over our last presidential election. Lines have been drawn and people have unfriended others because of differences of opinion. I heard of one person who left Lakeland because she could not imagine being a church with anyone who voted differently than her.
Does disagreement about things that are important to us necessarily mean friendships are on the line? Can we only be friends with people who agree with us? Think about it, if we hope to increase our influence in the lives of people outside the church in Lake County, we will have to be able to navigate relating with people who hold different views from us about things that really matter. In our last Forum, we took a baby step towards learning how to do exactly that. How?
I think the key developing friendships through differences is recognizing that behind every position is a person who has arrived at their position for a reason. When we only talk with our friends about our opinions, we only talk about the relative merits of what they think. But for most of us, a good amount of what we think is the result of experiences in our past that have shaped us. At our last Forum, regarding the presidential election, our question was not, “What is your position about the issues.” That would have been a free-for-all. Instead, our question was, “What experiences in your past effected why you voted as you did.” THAT was a revolutionary discussion.
I had just such a discussion a few years ago with a relative of mine. When it came to the issue of abortion, she and I could not be further apart from each other in our position. You can imagine, as the issue came up, how our tone and blood pressure began to rise. “How can we not protect the most vulnerable in our society (i.e. unborn children)?” was followed by, “How can you or anyone else control my freedom and life about something as important as having a baby?” Our conversation was quickly escalating.
But then we somehow got off of that spiral, and the tone changed immediately. How? My relative told me about an abuse she suffered when she was younger. She described what it felt like to be violated by another person who simply had the power to do so, and how frightening the world felt to her in light of such a possibility. She never wanted that to happen again.
Suddenly, our conversation was a very different one. I connected the feelings of her past trauma and GOT how a law outlawing abortion felt like the same control all over again. My discussion with her became much more human, and understanding. I was able to say, “I can see why you would resist any laws controlling your choices.” She had a point. Such a law WOULD be a huge infringement upon her freedoms. I needed to Affirm that truth. It saddened me to think of that implication for her, and the fear it brought up.
Of course in all of this, my view about abortion remained unchanged. Even as I type, I can access strong feelings easily about why I hold the view that I do. But I realized that behind the positions of people I encounter with whom I disagree, there is a person. And if I hope to influence them at all for Christ, how I handle conversations about the things over which we disagree have to become opportunities to become better friends, not worse ones. Affirming the truth of what others share will help you with this.