Are You Persuading or Are You Polarizing?
When it comes to sharing your beliefs and opinions, are you persuasive or are you polarizing? In my personal experience, it’s easy to get them confused. Sometimes we think that zinger of a Facebook post or that Twitter tirade is championing a cause, when in reality, all we really accomplish is alienating those who disagree.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we need to be silent in cultural conversations or passive on important issues. We should definitely use all the means of communication at our disposal to confront what is wrong, influence for what is right, and contend for the faith. Our social media culture lets us weigh in on everything from the latest presidential hopeful to whether the dress is white/gold or black/blue. We must, of course, peaceably add our voice to debates that matter.
Second Corinthians 5 describes us as ministers of reconciliation, God’s own ambassadors who plead with an unbelieving world to come and be reconciled to Christ (vv. 18-21). It also gives us an important perspective on how we communicate truth: Because we know the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (v. 11). When I think back to some of the ways I’ve expressed my beliefs – perhaps good, right, and true beliefs – sometimes what I thought was persuasive was actually pretty polarizing. So how can we tell the difference?
Persuading draws people in. Polarizing pushes people away.
A while back, I read an unfortunate exchange between two professing Christians who had some pretty drastic differences in their beliefs and interpretation of Scripture. One of them in particular had some rather harsh words for the other, and all of it was happening publically for all to see. Even more disappointing was all the support these tumultuous tweets received from observers. But, when all the dust had settled, I can’t imagine that anyone was persuaded by the exchange. They may have become more convinced of the opinion they already held. Or perhaps, so offended by the whole thing, they didn’t even hear what the issue was about. But, in all probability, no one was persuaded to a different belief, just polarized toward the one they already possessed.
How much more effective could we be in our relationships if we persuaded instead of polarized?
Proverbs 16 describes how “sweetness of speech” leads to greater persuasiveness, something that is also a mark of wisdom (vv. 21, 23). It’s so easy to react to the news with a rant, to draw a line in the sand and create an us-versus-them mindset. (Trust me – I’m talking to myself here. If you’ve ever had been around me during an election season, you know me + Twitter is not always a stellar idea.) But when we polarize, we miss an opportunity to draw someone in to a meaningful conversation, to understand where they may be coming from, and just maybe to use our influence to persuade.
There are some things that are actually worth polarizing ourselves over – the truthfulness of Scripture and all that it affirms about humanity, the deity of Christ, the forgiveness of sin through Jesus alone, and salvation by grace through faith. But even in this, our real goal is to persuade (2 Cor 5:11-14). Let’s let the truth of God’s Word be what polarizes, instead of how we communicate it. And let’s be people who, knowing the fear of the Lord and being compelled by His love, use our words to persuade.