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Christian Conflict, part 3: Be Quick to Listen

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.—James 1:19-20

I wrote yesterday about the harm done by denying anger, assuming that good Christians or nice people never feel it. But there is another way in which we can mishandle our anger. We can indulge in it, confusing our anger with God’s wrath.

Self-righteous anger can make us feel justified in fighting our opponents by any means possible, forgetting that they are fellow members of the body of Christ. It can cause us to ascribe all the evil in a given situation to the objects of our anger and to forget to keep watch over our own souls. It can blind us to the truth which may lie hidden in a position that at first looks completely wrong to our limited human vision. And it can cause our opponents to become defensive and miss the truth we have to offer them.

The cure for this is not denial or spineless niceness, but humility and listening. I have many strong convictions and my natural inclination, when anyone speaks against them, is to leap immediately into impassioned argument. But this doesn’t usually seem to have much good effect on the other person. I am learning, instead, to ask questions and to listen.

When someone supports a candidate or a proposed law that seems wrong to me I am immediately interested in knowing why, and sometimes I learn something that changes my opinion. When someone makes unfavorable assumptions about a group which I belong to—“Christians are bigots”, “Farmers are stupid”, “Medicaid recipients are lazy”—I am immediately angry. I try to remember to stop, take several deep breaths, and ask them how they formed that opinion. I’m not apt to change my mind about the issue, but I’ve heard some painful stories that move me from anger at the other person to compassion for them. I am and will be a Christian, but I have to acknowledge that times my co-religionists have acted hatefully toward others in the name of our religion. And sometimes people who’ve been hurt in this way read hatred into other interactions where it may not exist. I hope that by listening compassionately I may open them to the possibility that ours might be a religion of love.

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