Years ago I was part of a large Bible study. At the beginning, the leader pointed out that, with our different interpretations, backgrounds, and church traditions, we wouldn’t always agree with one another. However, that didn’t mean we couldn’t be kind, or patient, or even friends. At the top of our first study sheet was the dictum: “We agree to disagree agreeably.”
Apparently, that concept is now as passé as rotary telephones and hoop skirts.
A few days ago, my husband posted a link on his Facebook page to a new, funny website, a sort of Christian version of The Onion. He wasn’t claiming to agree with every article, or even endorse this site. He just thought it amusing. Apparently, one of the articles on this site included a photograph of President Obama. It was originally taken in connection to an episode of gun violence that happened a few years ago. The article made no mention of the shooting—they just wanted to illustrate their totally different point with a picture of the president, and happened to choose this one. However, one of Pete’s Facebook friends was so upset about their use of that particular picture that she commented with a diatribe about gun violence. Pete responded by pointing out that the article wasn’t about guns, but since she had brought up the topic, he went ahead and summarized his stance. His friend was so upset about his “conservative viewpoint about gun control” that she unfriended him!
This isn’t the first time we’ve been unfriended over an opinion. There are so many controversial issues being discussed argued over that we’re bound to disagree about something with almost anyone we know. In the past year or so, both Pete and I have been unfriended by long-time friends over one or another of these divisive issues.
I thought today’s society was big on tolerance. Apparently, we only have to be tolerant of those who agree with us.
This brings up the question— when should we treat different opinions on a subject as a reason to discard a friendship? When is it more important to take a stand than it is to love our neighbors?
Imagine how it would benefit both parties to politely (there’s an archaic idea!) share why we believe something, and then carefully listen to another point of view. Are different ideas that threatening? Are we that inflexible? Who knows, we may even learn something new. At the very least, can’t we agree to disagree agreeably? (And if it bothers you that much, just don’t read that particular post or comment!)
Even when it’s a non-negotiable matter of faith—matters such as “is there a God?” or “is there life after death?” or “ is Jesus the Son of God?” and so on—do we only befriend (or even talk to) those who share our beliefs? Is that what Jesus did?
When is it ever right to unfriend someone over a difference of opinion?
That’s not to say we should never unfriend someone. If they’re being abusive, if they’re trampling our personal boundaries, by all means run. But even then, I tend to “unfollow” someone rather than unfriend them. Unfriending is usually intended to be hurtful, and I don’t want to hurt anyone. About the only time I would consider actively unfriending someone is if they’re espousing evil—hatred and violence—that would poison my mind toward God.
Listening to another point of view doesn’t mean we have to change our own. We’re merely treating the person with respect for their ability to form their own opinion. Isn’t that the way we want to be treated ourselves?