Controversy: To Engage, or Not to Engage, That Is the Question.

With temptations towards arrogance and pride, fear of man and self-preservation, it’s easy to have a dysfunctional relationship with controversy. Either we thrive off of it, getting our fix from raised eyebrows, sparred words, and impassioned disagreements. Or, we fear it, clinging stoically to silence, which is often just a shield to hide our cowardice or apathy. Both tendencies are unloving. 

Engaging many controversial topics is good. Necessary even.

Passionate obedience to the command “love your neighbor as yourself” will inevitably lead us into controversy. There are core doctrinal issues we must fight for when false teachers, a culture of relativism, and our sinful natures disparage and distort God’s inerrant word. Knowing God is the greatest need of all creation, and obeying God is the surest path to lasting happiness. So for the love of our neighbor, we fight to preserve Biblical truth. 

There are also hot button social issues we should engage because they effect people God has made. We can’t be silent about the injustice of abortion and racism. We can’t be apathetic about refugee resettlement and immigration. We must address these topics with minds ruled by truth, hearts ruled by compassion, and a goal to demonstrate mercy and justice (though our views regarding how that should be done may differ).

Some argue that discussing such controversial subjects is a distraction from the Gospel, when it is actually the transforming effect of the Gospel that stirs us to address them! Becoming like our Father means we care about the things he cares about. He doesn’t care whether issues have become politicized–He cares about the people He’s created and how we, as individuals and as societies, treat them.

Now, how we engage these topics matters. We must be humble enough to listen, bold enough to speak, and gentle enough to be heard. The rule of truth and grace should be the guiding compass for any Christian engagement in controversy. Truth harshly hammered breaks and provokes rather than convicts and changes. It is more concerned with being right than being godly. On the other hand, grace devoid of truth is nothing more than a poisonous substitute for love. It’s pretty on the outside, but inside it’s death. Genuine grace doesn’t compromise truth. 

We often avoid controversial topics in an effort to maintain “unity.” But peace is an idol if we neglect God’s word in order to maintain it. To live like Jesus means we are willing to address controversial subjects, for He did and enraged the religious and non-religious alike. Sometimes we think our silence is a sign of maturity, when it is actually defiance to Scripture’s call to hold fast to sound doctrine, rebuke false teachers, defend the rights of the poor, and speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. 

Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something sometime in your life.” A compelling statement, but one that needs qualifications since we could easily stand up for the wrong things. May Scripture always shape what we stand for and how we stand for it. 

Questions to help guide our engagement

  1. From a Biblical standpoint, is this issue worth potential tension to address?
  2. Am I ready to listen to another perspective?
  3. Am I being silent to honor God, or because I fear man more than God?
  4. Is my silence reflective of a heart that is indifferent to the suffering, oppression, and mistreatment of others?
  5. Is my boldness balanced by grace?

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