“To think the way you think, you must be either dumb or dishonest — not to say evil.”
I grew up in a conservative evangelical circle. Evangelicals, by definition, are out there to spread the evangelion, the gospel, the good news about Jesus. That means that normally, we want to be the ones talking, not listening: we’re messengers, preachers. That also means that a lot of people hate us because we never listen to them. Those people are right.
It’s a sort of natural patronizing attitude we have: we’re walking around saying we have a personal relationship with the guy who claimed to be Truth incarnate, so, clearly, everyone should listen to us, right? We don’t even realize that there are a bunch of other Christians who claim to have that relationship with the same Truth-man and yet we all disagree on a bunch of things. Something is wrong.
I remember hearing talks and reading books about several kinds of other people: Muslims, Hindu, Atheists, LGBT people, Buddhists, Catholics, all written or spoken by a fellow evangelical. The idea was that knowing them well we’d share the gospel better. The thing is that these talks and books were by evangelicals, not those groups themselves. My opinion about a lot of people in the world was being shaped by caricatures, not the real thing.
Then, in life, I finally made queer friends, Catholic friends, Atheist friends, read Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim teachings, and realized that most of what I had heard was, well, false testimony. False testimony with good intentions, but still false. These people turned out to be normal human beings just like me, with a lot of good (and evil) about them just like me.
I also realized that although evangelicals have a special knack for it, due to the biblical incentive to be messengers, it’s not just evangelicals who don’t listen. It’s really a human problem: we’re all still kind of tribal people.
Right Wing people talking among themselves about Left Wing people. Liberal people talking among themselves about Traditionalist people. White people talking among themselves about black or native people. Protestants talking among themselves about Catholics. Montrealers talking among themselves about Torontonians. English talking among themselves about the French. People of one nation talking about people of another nation… and for each of these cases, also the other way around. And so it goes. We sit together in our hub of people like ourselves, where we feel confident and secure, and talk about the other people in the other group. “Them“. It’s our tribal instincts rising up, and it’s the kind of mindset that has sparked wars and dissent for all of history.
But life ends up being a lot better when we start talking with them, rather than about them. And when we listen.
Sure, Jesus told his followers to be messengers. Yet God is the God who hears, and we love believing that, don’t we? We’re called to be like that God. How can we help the oppressed if we don’t hear them? How can we rescue those we believe are in bondage, if, before they can say anything, we label them, unload a bunch of pre-made formula talk on their heads, tell them to agree and believe what we say, or else they can only be either stupid (because we’re so obviously right) or they’re dishonest (“they don’t want to believe”)? Jesus said the pharisees didn’t believe because they didn’t want to. Sure. But guess what, Jesus knew the pharisees very well. It’s different when you accuse people you don’t even know, because someone told you how they think instead of letting them speak for themselves.
Christians, remember that Jesus chose to save us by first becoming our brother. Empathy should be the first step in sharing our good news.
But again, this doesn’t apply just to Christians, or Evangelicals. It also applies to everyone who dislikes Evangelicals, but never actually spent time with one. It applies to liberals and conservatives. It applies to sports. It applies to pretty much anyone you dislike.
Don’t listen only to people who agree with you. Make friends with “them”, whoever they may be to you. Read their books, not your books about them. You might even like them, and believe me, you’ll be glad.