Recently, a well-meaning Christian asked me how Up For Debate promotes unity in the church. After all, each week, I invite two Christians who disagree on a particular topic to come on my program and air their differences. To many, nothing is more disagreeable than actually disagreeing. But, I don’t feel that way.
I grew up in a family where debating hot-button issues was a regular dinner-table activity. And, rather than pushing us apart, our regular debates drew us together. They kept us engaged as a family and talking about issues and ideas that were important to us. They also kept our family at the dinner table long after the meal was over, which extended our daily family time.
These dinner-table discussions also gave my parents opportunities to mold our young minds and teach us a biblical worldview. My parents would apply faith and Scripture to almost any topic, which showed me that Scripture is relevant and trained me how to discern important issues. Plus, by welcoming our questions and ideas, my parents let us kids know that anything was safe to discuss with them. So, when I doubted my faith in middle school, it was easy to talk to my mom about it. And, as an adult, I’ve rarely had qualms discussing religion and politics, even though society tells me I should avoid these topics and keep conversations superficial.
This is precisely why I started Up For Debate. I realize now that what I experienced in my home growing up is extremely rare. In fact, one of the main reasons Millenials give for leaving the church is that it’s not a safe place to ask questions and express their objections. In fact, a 2011 Barna survey found that 36% of Millenials report that they aren’t able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.” Is it any wonder, then, that Barna also reports that only 9% of American adults actually hold a biblical worldview?
When we keep our objections and doubts inside, they simply fester, rather than resolving in positive ways. I love the biblical example of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to see if what the Apostle Paul said was true. As Christians, we’re often extremely afraid of the conflict that intellectual and spiritual wrestling requires. We tend to think preserving “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as Ephesians 4:3 commands, means avoiding conflict or disagreement. But, just prior to that verse, the Apostle Paul says that we should be humble and gentle and show tolerance for one another. True tolerance requires actual disagreement. After all, if we all held the same views, there would be nothing to tolerate!
Preserving the unity of the Spirit means we need to handle conflict in constructive ways. We need to be humble enough to respect another person’s opinion and actually listen to him or her. We also need to be gentle in the way we confront each other and never insult another person’s intelligence or resort to name-calling.
So, we don’t need to shy away from difficult issues like whether Christians should be Republican or Democrat – or whether women can serve as pastors. We can even engage on contentious issues like whether or not Christians can be gay. (In fact, I discussed why I addressed this specific topic last week on the show – and explained why I’m willing to engage even believers with blatantly unorthodox views.) As Ronald Reagan once wisely said, “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” He also famously said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
Obviously, I can’t invite everyone to my literal dinner table. But, through radio, I’m able to recreate that dinner-table environment and help us reason together about the important issues that face the church today.