Healthy Debates

By James C. Sprouse, Senior Pastor

Here we are in the midst of another election year. Our presidential election cycles are too lengthy. This year passions and concerns run high. During the presidential and vice presidential debates we’ll be inundated with heated language, shouted disagreements and out and out lies. The differences will loom larger than simply differences in opinion. Actually, controversy and differences of opinion are not the problem – how one deals with differences of mind is the problem. John Wesley was fond of saying, “If we’re of like hearts, we don’t have to always be of like minds.”

Honest debate and disagreement take considerable introspection, good will toward others and must possess a sound understanding of the position with which you disagree. A book written by James H. Burtness titled, Consequences: Morality, Ethics and the Future suggest the following things to consider when disagreeing with another:

  • Assume the person with whom you disagree is just as sensitive, compassionate, informed and faith-filled as you, and that the person is your moral equal.
  • Pay attention to the content of what the other person is saying. Assume the disagreement is personal but instead represents a genuine concern of substance.
  • Use clear, neutral language. Avoid using the word “fact,” but use the word “opinion” liberally. Don’t use slogans or “bumper sticker” language.
  • Focus your attention on identifying the main point(s) of disagreement. No progress can result until consensus is reached about what the real issue is. Be sure to clarify possible areas of agreement.
  • Don’t assume the other person shares your understanding of words, such as moral or justice. Clarify language. Seek a common understanding of all the important words.
  • Don’t respond to emotional outbursts with an outburst of your own. Patience, generosity, and grace are the watchwords.
  • Give reason for your opinion. Avoid appeals to raw authority, conscience or personal experience.
  • Be courteous to those with whom you speak.

Jesus knew there would be disagreements among the faithful. He gave an interesting commentary on the Torah (Law) in the Gospel of Matthew when he said, “Moses gave you the Torah (the Law) because you refused to learn from one another…” hmmm. Maybe he’s got something there!



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Trinity United Methodist Church is located in McLean, VA. Our weekly worship services are on Sundays at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. and on Wednesdays at noon. Sunday School is at 9:30 a.m. for children and adults. Children up to 6th grade are also invited to Children's Education during the 10:30 service. Adult Bible Study also occurs on Mondays at 10 a.m. and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. Please visit our website for more information.

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