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Why aren’t we better at differing?

By Charles Qualls

Where I grew up wasn’t all that different from here. I don’t know about you, but where I come from we had colorful descriptions of people who are argumentative. Things that were said about someone with whom it’s hard to differ. I’m sure you did around here, too.

Here are some I remember. “Why, he’s as stubborn as a mule.” “She’d argue with a fencepost.” “With him, it’s my way or the highway.” “If you put him in a room by himself for 30 minutes, he’d come out beaten up from the fight he got into.” And here may be the most colorful one of all: “You can tell by the look she keeps on her face, she’ll cloud up and rain all over you any minute!”

People have differed for basically as long as there have been people. Right? That’s nothing new. This is the one I hear so much lately, though. “Why are we so divided as a nation?” That makes me ask a related question: Why aren’t we better at differing?

In November of last year, a video from a congressional session up in Washington went viral. The late John Lewis rose to pay tribute to Sen. Johnny Isakson, who was retiring because of battle with Parkinson’s disease. Lewis, himself battling stage-four pancreatic cancer gave a moving speech. Then, at great effort, they began to walk toward each other.

The two of them had so little in common, on the surface, yet had become trusted friends over the decades. A black Democrat and a white Republican. So often, they began on opposite sides of most issues. However, they had learned to love one another.

The nation watched as these two men embraced each other. Long, genuine, loving embrace and not mere ceremony contrived for the cameras. Finally, a fellow congressman spoke saying, “I wish all of America could be here to see that. Two icons from the state of Georgia embracing. What a wonderful sight, that I think is representative of the days past … and the days to come. Thank you both, not just for what you do but for who you are.”

“Representative of the days past … and the days to come.” Did you catch that? In other words, it’s not where we are today. Not even close. It seems we have lost a sense of decency and camaraderie. We have lost our way as a culture. We seem to have lost the will and the creativity to bridge obvious gaps. We have taken on a basic distrust and dislike for people once we know we differ from them. We have decided that those who disagree or think differently from us must not only be outvoted, they must also be eliminated.

In Romans 12:1-8, the apostle Paul writes for a moment about a situation that has spilled over into life outside the church. In verse three he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Then, he goes on to a more familiar listing of individual gifts that members tend to bring to a church or a community.

We are not all created alike. We don’t all see things just alike. We aren’t always interested in the same thing at the same time. Our opinions and even our convictions won’t always match up. Despite these obvious differences, he emphasizes that life in God’s kingdom is about the community first. It’s also about living as a reflection of God in Jesus Christ.

Getting precisely what we want, beating our opponent and eliminating our enemies? None of those things make Paul’s list of suggested behaviors. Read some more of Paul’s writings. It’s easy to see that he’ll lean toward Christians being good witnesses and not tearing each other up out of selfish wants. Every single time.

Oh yeah. Paul said one other thing. Right before our favorite part about people having all those diverse gifts. He said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In other words, as people who profess Jesus Christ, don’t go acting just like the folks who don’t know Christ. We must do better. Beginning with me.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.