Humility, Unity, and the Overly Opinionated Christian

If Americans are known for one thing globally, it’s that we’re a bunch of opinionated cusses. And if anything, social media and the Internet have not only made us more so, they have made us militant about ensuring we express those opinions in public spaces.

Take the recently concluded legal case of George Zimmerman, accused of shooting black teenager Trayvon Martin. My Facebook Wall had a number of people commenting on this case. In addition, the Internet practically swelled with opinions on the verdict.

Here’s the breakdown:

Whites = Justice was done. Now let’s move on.

Blacks = Justice was stymied. The verdict needs to be thrown out.

I happen to know the religious affiliation of many of those with an opinion, and here is what I noted:

White Christians = Justice was done. Now let’s move on.

Black Christians = Justice was stymied. The verdict needs to be thrown out.

If I were not a Christian, the only conclusion I could draw from that outcome is Christianity makes no difference in the way people think. Their upbringing, race, viewpoints—whatever—are untouched by their faith. Being “born again” doesn’t really change anything.

What a terrible witness!

The problem as I see it is that we Christians too often let our opinions overwhelm our Christianity. The average unsaved person sees this happen so often that they immediately form “antibodies” against the truth of the Bible and, ultimately, against Jesus. That’s not the fault of the Lord, but it is the fault of us who bear His name.

There’s a second problem. In the case of the Zimmerman trial, neither you nor I were privy to all the details of that trial, yet we are commenting on it like we are experts. We offer an opinion based on incomplete facts, and then we spout that ill-informed opinion to the world and draw our line in the sand for everyone to see.

And that’s a sin.

What the Bible says:

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No'; anything more than this comes from evil.
—Matthew 5:37 ESV

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
—Titus 3:9-11 ESV

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
—Colossians 3:12-15 ESV

There is something in the American Collective Experience that makes it a crime not to have an opinion about this topic or that. Christians cannot fall for that lie. If we are to be salt and light to a dying world, our response must always be 180 degrees from the prevailing wisdom of the world. Always.

If we are to truly let our yes be yes and our no no, then there are times when our only response to situations in which we lack all the facts is to say:

“I don’t have all the facts, so I’m going to refrain from speculating rather than potentially dishonoring the Lord by offering my unenlightened opinion.”

Blasting our opinionWhat if each of us who claims to be a Christian started responding that way?

Feels a little humbling, doesn’t it? Suddenly, we’re not a subject matter expert on every little topic that comes down the pike. In addition to humility, not having an opinion all the time may actually cut down on the dissension that is ripping apart our society and even our churches. Did you spot that word in the list of things Paul said Titus should avoid? Well, are we avoiding dissension or not? Or is letting others know our opinion more important than unity?

This is not to say that we cannot speak truth when it needs to be spoken. However, much of what we pass off as truth is just our fact-deficient opinion about something we probably know less about than we think we do.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.
—1 Corinthians 2:1-6 ESV

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
—2 Corinthians 5:17-20 ESV

Christians are to know Christ alone and Him crucified. Our charge is to be ambassadors for Christ. Our message is to be one of reconciliation.

Which is more important then, our opinion about some topic about which we most probably lack many of the facts, or reconciling people to Jesus?

Are we driving away people from Jesus because we feel compelled to comment on some political happening? Is our identity in Christ that weak that we must ensure people know where we stand on issues we actually know little about? Are we that arrogant that we think our input is the deciding factor? Are we drawing lines in the sand over some opinion based on grains within that sand rather than the truth of God?

I’m going to start defaulting to this more often:

“I don’t have all the facts, so I’m going to refrain from speculating rather than potentially dishonoring the Lord by offering my unenlightened opinion.”

How about you?

by Dan Edelen

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13 Comments

  1. linda
    Posted July 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dan,
    In the matter of Trayvon Martin we’ve heard alot about it in the news, even here in Canada where our news about this case has probably been limited compared to the USA. Someone who was following this case could likely learn quite a bit about the facts. I’m thinking this black vs white opinion you noticed in your post has its roots in the past experiences of injustice by the blacks. Suspicion of racism and corruption is the default in thinking of any and all judgments involving African-Americans. It’s a hard history for the USA to recover from.

    This topic of Trayvon Martin is not within the church (between brothers) but I understand it to be more of a social contention. I think that opinions are important. How do we know what one another is thinking if we cannot speak or express what we are feeling or what our understanding is? There is wisdom in many counselors the Bible says. We learn from one another, we receive correction from one another, we receive confirmation from one another. Stymied speech does not accomplish this. I think in our countries (Canada and USA)’freedom of speech’ is being lost. The Internet has been a challenge for the ‘censors’ to master and control what we ordinary people hear and see. This can be a good thing and not a bad thing.

    The Biblical references you quote in your post here are for the ‘brethern’ within the context of ‘church life’ and government and our relationships between ‘brothers’. I don’t see these as applying to the Trayvon Martin case.

    Also, if we are not allowed to have an opinion in the church that differs from others, how do we correct errors in the church? How do we even express these errors that we are concerned about to one another? Are we ‘gagged’ in the church? No, I don’t believe this.

    The opinions of church members are coming from their hearts. The concern is about the condition of these hearts. If ‘black’ supercedes Christ, then there is a problem. This also applies to ‘white’. If socially accepted thinking supercedes Christ in the church, then there is a problem. Jesus didn’t mince words with the Pharisees in his day. He didn’t keep his opinions to himself so to speak. Neither did John the Baptist, neither did Paul, etc.

    I think that wisdom has to be used in these matters, but ‘censorship’ and ‘gagging’ by the church ‘powers that be’ toward its members would be wrong in my thinking.

    • Posted July 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Linda,

      I made reference to issues of genuine truth in my post, which is not the same as opinions. Resolving issues within a church cannot come down to opinion, but they have to be grounded in the Spirit, the Word, and objective reality.

      I’m talking about Christians giving opinions on issues outside the Church, especially in the realms of politics and current events. I think fewer of us need to chime in on those types of issues, because in nearly every case, we are neither subject matter experts nor do we have all the facts.

    • Posted July 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Will add this, Linda.

      In the Zimmerman/Martin case, the only opinion that a Christian (who did not hear all the facts of the case as presented to the jury) should hold is that it is a sad situation for everyone involved. About this there can be no dispute, and no one needs all the facts to make that contention. Perhaps that’s as far as any of us should go with it.

      • James
        Posted July 19, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

        Nothing in the Bible states we cannot hold an opinion. It does say, give to Ceaser what is Ceasar’s and give to God what is God’s.

        An opinion is an outlook, such as that of how Christians should think and act, it is not a sin. Yes, Christ taught us to forgive and to offer love. He did not say we are not to protect ourselves, our society from those who do harm. Yes, we can forgive him, but it does not mean he should not be judged and given punishment for his wrong doings>

        Do you not spank or give time out to your child when they do wrong to teach them not to act or do things considered wrong? If we do this to our children, why not to adults that do wrong?

        The only problem I see is the racist problem that always comes up in a white/black situation. Granted we should never profile others; however, if you choose to dress and act like those gang Bangers known for killing and robberies… you then create the profiling. How can one determine the difference of a gang banger from an innocent person when they both dress and act alike?

        Society will always have innocent people killed, arrested and jailed because police cannot differentiate between which one is good or bad. If they are hanging in an area where a robbery took place and they fit the description… what is a cop supposed to do… just leave them be because he does not know if they are or are not the ones involved?

        I agree that Christians do not act the way we should, but that does not remove the right for us to have an opinion based on what we know. If you say the problem is that we do not have all the facts… then who’s fault is that… the media… the courts?

        That is who and where to begin your griping.

  2. ccinnova
    Posted July 15, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure the racial divide in this case is as stark as it was in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Plenty of white commentators and journalists, for example, appeared convinced George Zimmerman was guilty as charged. And Zimmerman is actually Hispanic rather than white.

    All I’ll say about the verdict is that I’m grateful I wasn’t on the jury which had to decide this case. Their decision will be second-guessed for the rest of their respective lives, perhaps even beyond.

    By the way, Charisma magazine posted the following interesting commentaries on this case at their website today:

    http://www.charismamag.com/blo.....y-response

    http://www.charismamag.com/lif.....an-verdict

  3. Mr. Poet
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I disagree in one respect. We must teach the younger generation about issues like these. They will be paying attention to stories like these. They will form their own opinions. Simply telling them we must remain humble because we do not know all the facts is fine as it regards judgmentalism. The very concept of “reasonable doubt” is a concept of humility to me. But we need to teach children what to do in situations like these.

    Zimmerman’s chief mistake was not carrying a firearm (which was his right) or getting out of his vehicle. It was going on neighborhood watch alone. If two had gone on watch, the other may have persuaded Zimmerman not to get so agitated. The other may have known it was Trayvon. Trayvon may not have attacked two people as readily as he attacked one. And if he had attacked, two could have defended themselves better against one without using a gun. And there would have been better eyewitness testimony.

    Unfortunately, the other lesson our children will learn from this without our guidance is that it is not worth defending other people (which was Zimmerman’s motive, even if he had a hero complex). Make no mistake about it. Neighborhood watch participants across the country will be thinking twice because of this case. Who wants their lives hung in the balance for over a year in a criminal case, then followed by a civil case and federal case?

    There are many other lessons we can teach our children when situations like these arise. I have reached the age, had enough bad things happen to me, and been wrong about enough in my life that I want to my mind my own business and defer in humility to God’s providence. But just because the bandits could have ambushed the Good Samaritan, too, and the Jew he saved may have spat in his face when the Samaritan came back to the inn does not negate the idea that the Samaritan acted righteously, and we should as well, even if we are thrown in jail for years like Joseph.

  4. Posted July 17, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    I strongly suspect that both individuals were flawed sinners suffering from being fallen creatures. Both likely made bad decisions. Both paid, though the price is not equal. Justice in this case (as in most cases) is not going to satisfy the populace, it’s going to satisfy the requirements of the law — which other flawed sinners making their own bad decisions have attempted to demonstrate to yet more flawed sinners who were required to also make potentially flawed decisions with admittedly incomplete information.

    Cases like this are like a cultural Rorschach test. We see what we are conditioned, biased, and predisposed to see.

    Like you, Dan, I’ve abstained from commenting on the case itself. I’m also disappointed in how we’ve allowed it to polarize us.

    The older I get the less attention I pay to the news. It all far too sensational and demoralizing.

    Rich

  5. Mr. Poet
    Posted July 17, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:6-9 KJV).

    “…for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45b KJV).

    Dan wrote:
    Whites = Justice was done. Now let’s move on.
    Blacks = Justice was stymied. The verdict needs to be thrown out.

    I believe the reason we as peoples react this way is because, although black and white American, black and white Christian, may speak English, we are not speaking in unity out of our hearts. And we only can speak that way when we are unified in Christ.

    • Posted July 17, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Poet,

      We can expect differences among people who are not saved. But Jesus’ high priestly prayer was that we believers should all be one. If anything, our oneness in that regard should trump everything else, perhaps establishing a third way in which white Christians and black Christians can agree.

      But if this is not the case, then we have a problem. And it appears that the problem exists.

      That Christians are not all one is one of the biggest arguments against the Christian Faith. How we let that persist is beyond me.

      My son and I were just reading of the Church meeting regarding the circumcision of the gentiles question. The apostles and disciples hashed it out before each other and before God and came to a unifying solution. Then in the very next section we have Barnabas and Paul splitting up over John Mark’s wishy-washiness.

      About points of doctrine, we must be unified. Regarding other issues of personal choice, they may remain personal choice; we won’t always be in unity. Wisdom is in discerning the difference between personal choice and doctrine.

      • Mr. Poet
        Posted July 17, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        As far as I can remember, I have always been taught Barnabas Good, Paul Bad as far as John Mark goes. But John Mark’s wishy-washiness had real world consequences. During Paul’s journeys, people were coming to the Lord on a regular basis – until John Mark left them. The evidence is so subtle, it is easy to miss.

        “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13 KJV).

        “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: and thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled” (Acts 14:21-26 KJV).

        Notice how before they came to Pamphylia in the second passage, they were “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (v. 22-23). But then they “preached the word in Perga” (v. 25). This was because there was no church in Pamphylia and Perga for them to confirm disciples and ordain elders. The departure of John Mark had so thrown off Paul and Barnabas that the ministry quantifiably suffered because of it.

        John Mark’s personal choice had eternal effect, just as the doctrinal decision had eternal effect. The doctrinal meeting certainly carried more weight throughout the centuries, but our decisions affect people’s lives, too.

  6. Don Costello
    Posted July 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    The Sandford article posted above is excellent. It really helped me to come to a more Biblical response, if I would ever give one. What I say may not help, but what I pray will always help. The black community, Christian and non are looking through a 400 year lens of injustice and whites, Christian and non don’t see it.

    • Posted July 17, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Don,

      Be available first. Pray second. Offer opinions somewhere down around #16 or #17.

      I don’t disagree with you, Don. But I hope at some point that Christian people of all kinds can find some common ground in Christ. If we can’t, then we might as well just stop with the dog and pony show because we’re not being the Church.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Cerulean Sanctum Dan Edelen has posted some hard hitting essaysHis “Humility, Unity, and the Overly Opinionated Christian” finds a couple of sharp lessons in public reactions to the recent George Zimmerman trial. [...]

  2. [...] I wrote “Humility, Unity, and the Overly Opinionated Christian.” In it, I noted that too often we lack the facts to comment and should probably, in [...]

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