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  • Writer's pictureRichard Parrish

Controversial Conversations

The conversation was pleasant — at first. But the on-going dialogue made me feel uncomfortable. It’s not the first time that’s happened. Controversial topics often make me feel uneasy.

Why am I hesitant to participate in sharing my perspective on this subject?

It was a quick question. I knew the answer. FEAR!

I’m afraid of being misunderstood or offending someone who shares a different point of view. I’m fearful that I may not have sufficient information on a subject and risk embarrassment. What will people think of me?

Fear of rejection has been a powerful force in my life since I was a child, encouraging my timidity. I can easily default to silence when it’s appropriate for me to speak for what’s right, honorable, and noble.

Also, it’s easy for me to become defensive — and not always in a healthy way. My views on a given subject can be pretty passionate. If I feel intimidated, my fight or flight switch is activated, either removing me from a conversation or ruining one.

All of us are acquainted (to some degree) with these types of fears. And all of us are familiar with contentious issues. It’s rare to find a topic today that is NOT controversial.

Pick an issue, any subject of your choosing: politics, policies, racism, climate control, religion, equality, education, healthcare, taxes, etc. — and I assure you, the subject you choose is fertile ground for contention.

Discerning when to speak and when to remain silent is essential.

The words recorded in Ecclesiastes 3:7 remind us: “[There is] a time to keep silence and a time to speak…” To know when to speak, or to remain quiet, requires discernment.

Have you ever listened in on a conversation and thought: “I wish he would quit talking?” There are times when silence is the best course of action. Proverbs 10:19 reminds us: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

Yes, silence is often wise. However, silence can also make us seem complicit.

Some issues require our voice. Jeremiah — alarmed at his people’s pending calamity — could not refrain from speaking (Jeremiah 4:19). It wasn’t comfortable for him to be a voice that confronted his culture, warning them of pending destruction.

Perhaps, he didn’t want to offend. Possibly he was fearful of what others would think of him. It would have been more comfortable for Jeremiah to stay silent. But, when God’s message needs proclaiming, it becomes so strong within us that we cannot keep quiet — even if that’s what we would want to do.

“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” - Jeremiah 20:9 (ESV)

It’s annoying to me when emotions derail constructive dialogue. Candidly, I’m tired of the name-calling. I see too many adults acting like little children who have yet to learn how to play nice. Don’t misunderstand: Passion is good. But when our enthusiasm encourages sinful behavior, the topic at hand is no longer the issue.

It isn’t very reassuring for me to observe the growing tendency to brand others who disagree with us in the category of ALL. “‘ALL evangelicals are like … ALL politicians are like … ALL LBGTQ are like … ALL teachers are like …’”

There are only two things that we ALL are alike:

We all SIN, and God LOVES us all!

We hear much today about racism and other forms of injustice. But when’s the last time that we’ve heard a message about sin? Sin has become an offensive, impolite, politically incorrect, and judgmental word for many.

Who’s to tell me what’s right and wrong? After all, isn’t morality subjective? What’s right for you may not be suitable for me, and vice versa. Although the opinion of sin may be offensive to some — it matters to God.

And that’s the problem. It’s easy to immerse ourselves in controversial topics while ignoring the crucial issue: Sin. If I can classify others as part of the problem, I’m less likely to view myself as liable and continue to ignore my need to fear God.

Rather than being alarmed at what others might think: a reasonable fear is to consider what God requires: “It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear…” - Deuteronomy 6:13.

I wonder: If we would be courageous — and honest — enough to address our sins, how many controversial topics would no longer be sources of contention? If we were to commit to resolving our sin issues, would the topics of racism and injustice be headline news?

Some insist that what we need is more love. The only hate that is acceptable is to despise sin! Our need to love others is not only appropriate; it’s true. However, the problem is: You or I cannot love others more unless we first recognize and accept God’s love for us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.” -1 John 4:7–8 (ESV)

Although I’m uncomfortable with controversial topics, I refuse to remain silent about God — who is quick to forgive sin and loves us more than we can imagine. Whether it’s comfortable or not, I will continue to remind myself — and others of what Jesus commands:

“… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. [And] ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:30–31 (ESV)

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