Reaction to the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial has shown that some Christians are confused about how to respond to a controversial issue, especially one that is highly charged emotionally. Since the verdict, I’ve seen some high-profile, otherwise rational, deliberative Christian thinkers make statements that range from unhelpful to flat out untrue.
While I’m sure they were well intentioned, we must remember that having good intentions is not the same thing as being right. We have no problem seeing that where theology is concerned but it sometimes goes out the window when dealing with social or political issues.
Part of the problem is that Christians don’t like controversy so our first instinct is often to make it go away. We are, after all, called to be peacemakers. However, that does not mean at any cost.
Phil Cooke in a post called Five Non-Christian Habits Christians Need to Learn says this:
Speaking the truth invariably creates conflict because someone won’t like it. So we have a choice – either stand up or shrink back. We don’t have to be jerks or control freaks. But there are times when we do have to be bold.
So what should this look like with a high profile, controversial issue like the verdict in the Zimmerman trial?
- Don’t take the story at face value. We must do our best to find the truth before making public statements (Proverbs 18:17). If we bear false witness against someone because we’ve simply repeated the talking points of the media or special interest groups rather than forming an opinion based on the facts, we’ve sinned against that person the same as if we’d chosen to slander them deliberately.
- Remember that all points of view are not valid and deserving of a response. Sometimes Christians think they should always seek to reconcile two opposing parties. While we are to be about reconciliation, that is not at the expense of truth. A claim of wrong is not proof of wrong, especially in the absence of any corroborating facts (Deut. 19:15). If it’s necessary to downplay or compromise truth in order to reconcile, it’s not reconciliation the other party seeks but validation of their viewpoint.
- Similarly, we do not always have an obligation to “see both sides” – if by that we mean that both sides represent equally legitimate points of view. They don’t always. We should certainly seek to understand the other side’s position but if their position (or ours) is based on lies, misrepresentations or half-truths, we should say so unapologetically. We should then point people to the truth, not do handstands to find a way to reconcile truth with untruth, something the Bible tells us is not possible (II Corinthians 6:14).
- A person or group’s past experiences, no matter how difficult, do not give them permission to lie, believe lies or repeat lies. Past experiences may explain why someone is reacting as they are but we are under no obligation to validate their reaction if it is contrary to the truth simply because of their past experiences.
In short, Christians are to speak truth. Certainly in love, but truth nonetheless. Some truths are difficult for people to hear. No matter how they are shared offense will be taken. We should share them anyway. If we’re unwilling to do so, we should stay out of the discussion.