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How To Disagree With Someone (Online And In Person)

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arrowsOne of your Facebook friends just posted a status that angered you.

You just read a blog post that got you all heated up.

Your preacher, elder, or Bible class teacher said something in class that didn’t sit well with you.

Your peer or co-worker made a remark that made you downright mad.

I know what you want to do. You want to call them out! Either what they said was incorrect, or they said something that was downright offensive. Now you want to correct this injustice – and you want to do so in no uncertain terms!

I would encourage you, at this point, to be very careful. While a disagreement isn’t wrong, you need to be very sensitive in how you verbalize your disagreement with someone.

Why be so careful? As a Christian, you now have Christ living in you (Gal. 2:20) and therefore you must protect His name. The way in which you disagree with someone is a reflection of who and Whose you are.

John Newton, the 19th century abolitionist who wrote “Amazing Grace,” said,

What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?[1]

Paul told Christians,

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col. 4:6, ESV)

Disagreeing is an art. And while I know some Christians who have learned to color a beautiful picture inside the lines, I know many others who are lucky if they can just keep the colors on the page.

Next time you feel it is necessary to voice a disagreement with someone online or in person, please consider the following reminders:

1. Listen. Assume the best. Acknowledge what is true.

Unless the person specifies that they are giving an exhaustive defense of their point, recognize that they may have left out some key elements.

When someone has a point that needs to be made, they are probably just highlighting something they feel has been neglected. They’re just pointing something out, not everything out.

Here’s an example to illustrate:

Speaker/Facebook Status/Blog Excerpt: Christians are so hypocritical in how they denounce the sins of others while ignoring their own sins.

Response A: At least they acknowledge and try to avoid some sin, unlike the rest of pagan society.

A better response:

Response B: It’s true that many Christians are hypocritical in their battle against sin, while, sadly, it seems only a few are genuinely fighting against the Evil One. How can we encourage Christians to live holy lives?

What makes this response better? Response B listened to the point the speaker was making, didn’t automatically assume he/she was taking a crack-shot at Christianity, acknowledged the truth behind the statement, and expanded the conversation in a positive direction.

2. Summarize the point in your mind.

Can you rephrase the statement with which you disagree in such a way your opposition would respond, “Yes, that is the point I’m trying to make”? If not, you did not listen well enough, and you need to go back to reminder #1.

3. Try not to overwhelm.

Clarence Thomas, the 2nd African-American to be an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, said,

Genius is not to write a 5 cent idea in a ten dollar sentence. It’s to put a ten dollar idea in a 5 cent sentence.[2]

When responding to a point with which you disagree, be as concise as possible. An unnecessarily wordy response is a sign of an unorganized and unchallenged mind.

Personally, I struggle to take a 500-plus-word rebuttal to a 15-word argument very seriously. Ironically, the longer you take to adequately communicate your disagreement, the weaker your argument becomes.

Give your opponent a chance to breathe. A response that is too long (e.g. writing 2,000 words in response to a 100-word statement) is sometimes rude. It says, “You’re not worth the time for me to give a lot of thought to what I want to say.” Thoughtfulness, effort, organization, and compelling reasoning are evident in a concise, but meaningful, reply. 

(Whew! #3 was wordy!)

4. If possible, go to the person in private.

Publicly disagreeing with someone can sometimes be embarrassing and even humiliating. If a brother or sister says something with which you disagree, try to go to them privately.

Jesus said,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. (Matt. 18:15, ESV)

When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos publicly teaching things that were inaccurate, “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

Practice the “Golden Rule” in Matthew 7:12. How do you want people to disagree with you? Publicly (in front of an audience, or in a public Facebook comment), or privately (in a phone call, when no one else is around, or in a private Facebook message)?

5. Don’t be a ‘hit-and-run’ commenter. Be compassionate. Offer an alternative.

Disagree in a way that communicates that you still love the person. This is especially important if you are speaking to them on their turf (i.e. church class, website, or Facebook account).

If someone says something in disagreement with your understanding of God’s Word, be sure to back up your argument with Scripture.

Don’t call anyone names (“liberal,” “conservative,” “republican,” “legalist,” “apostate,” &c). This never helps.

6. Know when to stop and leave gracefully.

Not every comment or position is an invitation to a conversation. Be sensitive to the fact that the person may not be interested in a dialogue.

Also, be aware of prior wounds and hurt feelings. If emotions are high, you probably won’t be able to make any headway. You may be able to reengage in the conversation at a later time. Always be willing to bow out gracefully.

Conclusion

The method of your disagreement is perhaps even more important than the content of your disagreement. Above all, you need to ask the question, “How would Jesus disagree with this person?”


[1] The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX “On Controversy.”
[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/why-clarence-thomas-uses-simple-words-in-his-opinions/273326/

Question: Do you have any advice on how to offer criticism or how to disagree with someone?

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2 Responses to How To Disagree With Someone (Online And In Person)

  1. Torrey Clark July 10, 2013 at 12:10 PM #

    Wonderful thoughts Ben. Thanks!

  2. Melissa July 10, 2013 at 3:15 PM #

    Great things to keep in mind. Thank you for lining it up.

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