Divisive Issues as Spiritual Practice

illustration by wildpixel / iStockphoto.com

Christian practices teach us to live differently. So when the culture preaches relentless productivity and greed, we practice resting and giving. Such things don’t come naturally, but practice enables us—by the grace of God—to withstand the world’s pressures.

Spiritual practices are ways of living out Paul’s command “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). Putting off the old requires many tiny choices. Paul’s first example is to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor” (v. 25). This isn’t a one-and-done thing, but a steady, lifetime practice.

Spiritual practices like prayer, Scripture study, solitude, fasting, and hospitality aren’t meant to be mere duties but rather “patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us,” as Craig Dykstra puts it in Growing in the Life of Faith (p. 66). God transforms us through such practices.

Beyond the traditional practices, it’s helpful to look at our current age to see how we’re being malformed into a body that doesn’t fit Christ our head (Colossians 1:18). For example, in our mobile world, we think little of leaving our local church to take a job in another city. But some Christians practice stability: sticking with their churches over the long-haul. They are challenging our relationally unstable world. John Alexander suggests “finding core sins of the surrounding cultures and creating forms that confront them well . . . by pointing in more life-giving directions . . . In that way we can point the world toward hope” (Being Church, p. 149).

Instead of winning points with clever debate rhetoric, we can make honest, charitable, and humble arguments, while learning from others’ arguments.

So what does this mean for how Christians engage divisive issues? The culture of the world has become increasingly polarized and outraged, losing its shared vision and the ability to work together. Many have lost hope. While we Christians have plenty of things that divide us, Jesus invites us to engage these things in life-giving, counter-cultural ways.

So instead of winning points with clever debate rhetoric, we can make honest, charitable, and humble arguments, while learning from others’ arguments. Instead of entering dialogues where all views are equal, we can listen compassionately, build strong bonds of covenant loyalty across difference, and challenge one another to live faithfully (Hebrews 10:24). Instead of cheering when our opponent goofs, we cheer most loudly (and give thanks most gratefully) when the fruit of the Spirit emerges in our midst: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This is our peculiar idea of winning.

We become what we practice. So as we face into the issues of our day, may we do so in a distinctively Christian way.

Rob Barrett is Director of Forums & Scholarship for The Colossian Forum, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to transforming divisive topics into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. Their work centers around Christian communities that actually look Christian in the midst of conflict, holding truth and love together. TCF brings people together in messy situations to participate in the truth of the gospel, providing hope that even in disagreements, “all things hold together in Christ” (Colossians 1:17).

You may also want to read

Do I Have a Story?

By Joshua Gonnerman
A person’s story requires more than an understanding of what has happened up to this point. We also need a plot outline and trajectory, to help us sense how the rest of our lives might unfold.