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As Dale Carnegie suggests in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, if you want to persuade someone of an argument, it’s best to be nice to that person. If you aren’t, the person may see the logic in what you’re saying–and may even find it convincing–but she will be defensive. She will be unwilling to give up her position because she feels threatened, and she will feel hostility toward you and possibly your position and/or anyone who holds it.
Yet this is the way we evangelicals approach debate or disagreement. We’ve all seen people on social media blast the other side, so to speak, by posting or reposting incendiary content. These are often ad-hominem attacks on the other side–whether the other side is political, religious, racial, etc.
Churches, pastors, and lay people do this. It happens with liberal Christians attacking conservative Christians, conservative Christians attacking liberal Christians, cessationists attacking charismatics, Protestants attacking Catholics and Catholics attacking Protestants, Calvinists attacking anti-Calvinists and anti-Calvinists attacking Calvinists, Christians attacking Muslims–and on and on.
What does this accomplish? It only generates more hostility, and it makes Christians look bad to the rest of the world. In other words, it hinders people coming to know Christ.
When we debate, what is our end goal? Are we trying to prove–more than anything–that we’re right? Is being right the absolutely most important thing? Are we trying to humiliate our opponent(s)? Is debate just a place for us to express our disdain of another group? If any of these are true, I think we have an un-Christlike mindset.
Debate and dialogue should be for listening, considering all sides, rationally and calmly presenting our case, and putting others before ourselves (and no, that’s not the same as just lying down and accepting the other’s position). Debate and dialogue should be productive. They should bring us closer to one another. They should help us understand each other. They should help bring God’s kingdom to earth. They should not generate hostile feelings. They should, in some cases, actually convince one of the parties of the other’s position, or at least some of it. Debate and dialogue should be nice.
Mean-spirited, verbally abusive, ad-hominem attacks have zero part in God’s kingdom. Even if what we’re defending is right. Even if what we’re defending is holy.