I have noticed a rather worrying trend in many Christian circles today. It has to do with how some believers will quickly bring a discussion or a debate to a quick halt by throwing out, almost as a cliché, words such as, “that’s not very loving” or “that’s not very gracious”.
It happens quite frequently, and those who do this think it is a sort of trump card that allows them to automatically win any argument, or silence any opposition. It really is the Christian equivalent of how homosexual activists silence debate and seek to demonise their opponents.
In any debate with these guys, they simply have to throw out the term “homophobia” and that’s it – end of discussion. No matter how much logic, data, evidence or reasoning you bring to bear on a debate with them, as soon as they toss this verbal hand grenade into the discussion, it’s all over. They think they have won, because this notion of ‘homophobia’ is seen to trump everything.
This tactic is now quite often being used in Christian debates. Especially if one is seeking to defend some biblical orthodoxy, all the opponent has to do is accuse you of being ungracious or unloving, and the discussion is over. The critic has taken the high moral ground, and there is little one can do.
And with so much in life, there is of course an element of truth in all this. Is grace, love and the like vital in all our conversation, discussions, and even disagreements? Absolutely. That is not being questioned here. But many believers find that anyone seeking to affirm biblical teaching at any time is by default being ungracious and unloving.
Simply to take a stand on any biblical doctrine is seen to be provocative, aggressive, unloving and divisive. If that is the accepted presupposition, then yes, that is the end of all Christian debate. People simply begin to wonder whether they should even open their mouths for fear of being labelled harsh, unloving, judgmental, ungracious, and so on.
But to see how unhelpful and unbiblical this is, one simply needs to go back to the Bible. Take any of the great characters in the Bible, and you will find plenty of examples of what today would be considered to be quite harsh, unloving and intolerant speech – and acts.
The Bible is in fact full of these, and had these characters lived in today’s PC and TC climate, most of them would have been soundly rebuked for their lack of grace and love. Dozens of individuals come to mind here. Let me just mention a few.
Just how ungracious and unloving was Elijah? When he mocked, ridiculed and taunted the false prophets, he did not exactly seem to be a blazing example of tact and diplomacy. Indeed, he seemed to deliberately go out of his way to denigrate and deride these Baalists and their false gods.
Just how ungracious and unloving was Isaiah? He offers some of the most stinging denunciations of idols and idolatry in the entire Bible. He offers withering denunciations of idolatry, and is not afraid to use the strongest of language to do so. Simply reading the book of Isaiah out loud today would be regarded by many as quite an un-Christlike activity.
Just how ungracious and unloving was John the Baptist? Even Jesus had to defend him: “he came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’.” Indeed, the prophets in both Testaments were accused of all sorts of things, and rejected by the masses.
Just how ungracious and unloving was Jesus? Think of all kinds of rather nasty things he was happy to say. Calling people “white-washed tombs,” “blind fools,” “hypocrites” and the like does not seem to be the epitome of love and charm. Publicly rebuking Peter and saying “Get behind me, Satan!” is not exactly how you win friends and influence people.
Just how ungracious and unloving was Paul? Referring to his opponents as dogs and the like would make him very unpopular in many Christian circles today. And poor Peter, he too was publicly rebuked by Paul as well. ‘Oh, but we are not to air our dirty laundry in public’ we are told today. And just what was he thinking when he absolutely blasted the Galatians? Where is the love Paul? Where is the grace?
The truth is, the use of harsh, even provocative language is found throughout the Bible. Jesus and others used it constantly. The use of satire, irony, mockery, ridicule and sarcasm is used time and time again. I have written this up in more detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/04/18/rhetoric-the-bible-and-the-believer/
Now I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water here. Can people become unnecessarily unloving and ungracious in their talk and discussions? Yes they can. But what I am concerned about here is the attempt to silence anyone who wants to affirm biblical truth by throwing out these charges, often quite recklessly and needlessly.
We need to realise that in a world which values ‘tolerance’, acceptance and non-judgmentalism above all else, any sort of disagreement or stance for truth will automatically be viewed as being judgmental, harsh, ungracious, and so on. When we have decided that all truth claims are in fact unloving acts, then one will always be accused of such nasties.
We already have secular laws being passed making various types of ‘vilification’ to be illegal. Anyone can claim they are a victim of ‘hate speech’ and ‘vilification’ simply if another person disagrees with them. This has resulted in a wholesale crackdown on freedom of speech.
Now we are seeing this played out in the churches. Whatever the intention has been, the result is the same: people are being silenced, debate is being curtailed, and freedom of speech is being whittled away – all in the name of sentimental and dopey notions of love and grace.
As always, there is a fine line to tread here, and we are all ordered to speak the truth in love. But those concerned about biblical truth will always have to take a stand. If they get labelled as being unloving or ungracious for doing so, then so be it. The biblical characters mentioned above would have also been accused of the same.
Fortunately they kept proclaiming truth – because they really did love people – and they refused to be silenced. We must do the same. We can all improve in our ability to love and be gracious. But we can also all improve in the need for some boldness in standing up for truth when it is not popular to do so.