It was the Great Homeschool Takedown of 2011. The yearly homeschool convention was a mix of returning speakers and new voices, from a variety of perspectives. And this is what got us all into trouble.
One of the fixtures of the convention learned that a certain new speaker had been invited, a person who happened to hold theological views miles apart from his. He immediately called for Mr. New to be un-invited, and when the convention people refused, immediately called a protest. Mr. Fixture couldn’t exactly tell his followers not to attend, since more people equaled more seats in his sessions and money at his booth. So he printed stickers reading “I Stand With (Fixture)” for followers to wear at the Convention. For days before and after the convention, Fixture did his best to “warn” his followers (i.e. discredit New), claiming New’s beliefs violated the truth of Scripture.
So of course the Ollers had to go hear Mr. New.
Why am I bringing all this up, all these years later? Because this memory has been on my mind a lot lately. The events of this year – the politics, the responses to natural disasters, the daily wrangles on social media – all have me thinking about this story.
What sticks with me all these years later is the vitriol of Mr. Fixture. A Christian man, head of a huge Christian organization that’s influential in broad Christian circles, chose to respond to someone he viewed as a threat in the usual way we respond to threats: he declared war. In his mind he was practicing righteousness, appointing himself to defend the truth of Scripture from a dangerous heretic who could potentially warp the beliefs of vulnerable God-fearing people.
I don’t have a problem with his devotion to Scripture. But I have a major problem with his expression of it. John 13:35 is why. Jesus said:
By (loving one another) all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
The way Christ-followers are supposed to treat each other is simple: we love. Period. Picture your middle-school chemistry class and imagine what should happen when one person’s vial of truth is poured into someone else’s container of belief. The result should be a swirl of bright-red love, whirling through and uniting the two liquids. Instead what we often get is a violent chemical reaction in which things burn and fester instead of unite.
Jesus said it: the way to know whether we’re really acting like a Christ-follower is if we’re loving each other. There are always going to be spiritual truths over which Christ-followers disagree. And even when we agree on basic truths, we often disagree on interpretation or implementation. Guess what? It’s ok, because God cares more about how we love each other than He does over whether we’re right. If He wanted us all to understand the Bible perfectly, don’t you think He would have given us a checklist instead of a narrative?
Calling out someone in a fit of righteous anger is not love. Defending our position while blasting holes in another’s is not love. Is it possible to be on opposite sides of an issue yet still show love? Yes, because it’s possible to disagree with gentleness and kindness. The point is in how we handle our disagreements: are we able to speak blessing over each other, and seek out points on which we do agree? Can we trust the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8) instead of trying to do His job for Him? As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, if we don’t have love, nothing matters.
In 2011 my family and I sat in on Mr. New’s session. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember him. He was soft-spoken and eloquent; humility oozed from him. He never said one bad word about Fixture. He’d been tried by fire but still showed up to do the job he was invited to do.
I recently read one of his books, about the danger of being so certain of our beliefs that we develop false pride and lessen our dependence on God. It’s about the blessings of uncertainty. He never mentioned it, but I wondered: did he, too, remember 2011?
photo: via VisualHunt