Society has become less graceful and accepts opinions that differ, but Christians need not fall into this trap. Here are some rules for Christians for debating respectfully and knowing when not to argue.
You can’t miss the fact that people have a much harder time accepting opinions that differ from their own. It has given rise to so-called “cancel culture,” censorship, and, ironically, increased division while promoting the notion it is seeking tolerance.
In the past, schools had debate clubs that helped students learn how to express and accept various opinions. Students were assigned to argue either the pros or cons of a given topic, even if it wasn’t their own opinion. This helped people learn various skills, including speaking, synthesizing information, critical thinking, listening to others, staying composed, the art of persuasion, and speaking to an audience.
But it seems many people today are too quickly offended, not interested in hearing the opinions of others, and ready to launch an ad hominem (personal) attack on the person they disagree with.
For Christians, they need to not only pick their battles wisely, but when they do engage another person, they need to express themselves in a manner very much like they were in a debate – and argument with rules.
With so many people spending time online these days, it offers various opportunities for discussion. However, these often descend into arguments. There are right and wrong ways to debate respectfully, and these go to a higher level for Christians, who also need to know how to avoid letting emotions take over and when to walk away.
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
The first thing to get out of your mind is the idea that you “have to win” the argument. Your goal is only to be heard. If the other side is not willing to listen, you are respectfully wasting your time and energy. It’s pointless to continue to try to make your point if they are unwilling to receive your words. Respectfully move on.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Knowing that you are not “out to win” the debate or argument, but only to be heard, it is okay that you do not agree on the topic being discussed. If the other party allows you to make your point, you have been successful. They now have the information to consider. You may not agree – and that’s okay. Agree to disagree.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
– James 4:1
Emotions can be dangerous when arguing. They can pull our minds from making logical arguments and allow passions to take over. An ad hominem attack is when someone directs the debate against the person they are arguing with rather than the topic or position they are maintaining. This is frequently seen in political debates. But it is not a good look. It is immature, desperate and disrespectful. This is not a manner in which a Christian should behave.
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
–1 Peter 3:9
When a party you are debating against becomes rude, never mimic their behavior or lower yourself to a disrespectful level. Remember Christ’s words:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
– Luke 6:27-28
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
–2 Timothy 2:23
Some things aren’t worth arguing. This comes down to the old adage: “Pick your battles.” It’s pointless to fight over things that cannot be proven or provide no benefit. It’s also not worthwhile to debate with someone who is unlikely to understand your point. Another adage: “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it fully.” Always consider the source before you get pulled into a debate.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;”
We can all be wrong in debating and arguing. And we may not be aware of it at the time. When you realize you are wrong, you need to apologize to the other person. Likewise, we need to forgive others who are wrong – even if they don’t apologize. Remember Jesus’ words about loving enemies, doing good, and forgiving others.