Dealing With Disagreements: How To Honorably Navigate Through An Argument And Have The Humility To Change

Franklin Change Mind MemeI have a very old book written by former Illinois Governor, Thomas Ford (1800-1850), “A History of Illinois,” which contains gems of wisdom.

Mr. Ford, in discussing the political climate of those days, noted how difficult it became for a person who, after receiving updated or better information, altered or changed his views. Such a one was branded a political heretic. He says,

“No allowance is made for the altered circumstances of the times, for the oblivion of old questions of dispute, or the springing up of new ones not dreamed of in former contests. Neither is any allowance made amongst fierce partisans for the fallibility of human judgment, nor for the results of a more matured, careful, and candid examination of political questions. Mankind adopt their principles when they are young, when the passions are strong, the judgment weak, the mind misinformed, and are generally influenced in their adoption by mere prejudice arising from attachment to friends. The mind has nothing to do with it. If afterwards they attain to more knowledge and capacity they are required to persevere in their first impressions or to be branded with inconsistency.

“Without asserting that Gov. Duncan was right in his change, for such would not be my opinion, yet it would seem from his example and that of many others that it would be better for politicians if they could reverse the order of their existence, come into the world in their old age and go out when they are young. As it really is, a man comes into the world without knowledge, experience, or capacity to think, and before he gets them, under the influence of his attachments to men, he is required to make up his opinions upon all the grave questions which are to affect himself or his country. He is to take a party name, and however much he may afterwards become enlightened, or parties shift grounds, he is never to change, under the penalty of being branded as a traitor to his party.

Amazing observation. I have discovered by personal experience that this lesson applies to Biblical discussions as well. I have, on numerous occasions, witnessed the ostracization of a person for merely changing views after further Biblical research. Like the persecuted in Ford’s above narrative, the Believer who maturely refines his views to line up with Scripture, as he understands it, is labeled a heretic or a flip-flopper by those who put party over principle. And like the party faithful in Ford’s story, those who ostracize are motivated by fear and insecurity. Ostracization over differences of opinion is the method of the fearful, the insecure, the selfish, and the stubborn. God forgive me for having committed this sin myself! Help me to never do it again!

How often do people adopt certain beliefs before they’ve studied the Bible? How often do people“believe” something just because a friend does, or a group of friends? How often is our “unflinching faith” nothing more than stubbornness, or worse, resistance to revealed truth?

Benjamin Franklin said to the members of the Constitutional Convention after months of disagreements and debates the following:

“I CONFESS that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of it, for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them, it is so far error…But, tho many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally an a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister, said: ‘But I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right.'”

If you are engaging with someone with whom you disagree, please remember how ignorant you once were, and may still be. I have discovered by experience that there are good men on both sides of issues, a fact which should teach us to be moderate, honest, kind, and sincere when expressing our opinions – even if convinced you are in the right. Too often we characterize those who disagree with our opinions as enemies. This should not be, it’s the easy way out. Plus, and here I speak with experience, the sorrow you cause to others – AND THEIR FAMILIES –  is cruel.

Some may read this and snicker at it’s idealism, others may think that I am promoting a non-committal approach to God’s Word, a wishy-washy-anything-goes Christianity. Far from it. We boldly say with Martin Luther,

Luther Here I Stand Meme“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

People usually call into service this Luther quote to inspire devotion in order to create “champions of the faith.” They love the in your face Luther holding his ground before kings! I do too. I’ve never, however, heard or read anyone using it to praise Luther’s humility to inspire a reverence for God’s Word thus creating a teachable people who joyfully adjust their lives and beliefs when corrected by the Sacred Volume. In other words, instead of using Luther’s words to boldly promote truth, many are using them to encourage an insecure-based stubbornly-bold devotion to a party. Imagine that! They are ignoring a Bible truth which says,

“For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23).

And again,

“I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies” (Psalm 119:59).

Far from being wishy-washy, we are actually being driven to God’s Word for daily instruction and correction.

Humility, motivated by true love, will enable us to conduct ourselves through disagreements honorably. After all, we are far from perfect knowledge. Benjamin Franklin once encouraged his arguing friends to doubt their own infallibility. The older I grow, the more inclined I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. 

Alexander Hamilton once said,Hamilton Truth Meme

“…in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution…I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I will freely lay before you the reasons on which they are founded…My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.”

Humility, a relentless desire to search for truth wherever it may lead us, a willingness to change when change is called for, and the ability to present our beliefs and opinions in such a way that will not disgrace the cause of truth – these are some of the greatest needs of our day.

Think about how many truly good ideas were lost or forgotten because the promoters of those ideas disgraced the cause of truth by their behavior in word or deed. Those who value truth adorn it with good character – they never want to get in the way of truth.

May this be our motto:

“I hope…that I shall do enough, if I uncover the purest and simplest sense of the Gospel as well as I can, and if I answer some of those unskillful glosses, in order that the Christian people may hear, instead of fables and dreams, the Words of their God, unadulterated by human filth. For I the nothing except the pure, unalloyed sense of the Gospel suitable for the low, humble people.” Martin Luther

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