The Christmas season is a time for getting together with family and friends. These reunions are intended to be a time to rejoice. However, for many people, the holidays are filled with tension. In today’s charged political climate many worry about how to address discussions about politics and seek to avoid controversial subjects altogether. Fearing discord, even Christians are tempted to follow the old maxim, “don’t discuss politics or religion.”
To be sure Christians are not called to engage in worthless argumentation. If people want to argue with us about something of no consequence we are to avoid such arguments. At the same time, we are also not called to indifference or cowardice. Rather, we are to prayerfully and selectively discern which issues are issues of importance, and then speak to those issues with love and a gentle spirit.
In St. Paul’s’ second letter to the disciple Timothy he wrote:
23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Tim 2
What Paul writes in verse twenty-six is particularly instructive in that it reminds us that when someone is choosing an ungodly way of thinking or acting they have effectively succumbed to intense outside spiritual pressure. In fact, St. Paul describes this pressure as a kind of captivity where people are being forced to think, speak or do what is evil. A Christian worldview holds that when we see someone caught up in ungodliness we do not blame them, we blame evil forces. Even as God loves us in our sin, we too love those caught up in sin, including those forced to do evil against their will.
Imagine if you saw someone stealing jewelry and running from a shop. You might think, ‘what evil!’ Yet imagine if you discovered some madman had taken that person’s family hostage and forced them to steal that jewelry under threat, telling them that their loved ones would be killed. In that case, your view of the robber would change, understanding they are being forced to sin; or are, at least, under tremendous pressure from an evil force.
Scripture directs us to a certain view of those caught up in evil. St. Paul emphasized this spiritual reality when he wrote in Ephesians 6:12 St. Paul writes: 12 our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the… powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
We re not to stand in judgment or condemnation of anyone. Rather we view those caught up in sin with hearts full of mercy and compassion, because we see them as captivated by, or captives of evil.
Jesus said he came to proclaim release to the captives. (Luke 4:18).
We, as Jesus’ representatives are charged with learning and sharing the path out of captivity. The path out of captivity is Jesus. It is found in oneness with Him. Finding oneness with Him means coming to terms with who He is, and who He is is described by many terms, or titles. Some of the titles for Jesus are ‘Christ’, Lord, Rabbi, Son of Man, Son of God, Lamb of God, etc. One title that merits particular focus when dealing with conflict is Jesus’ title:’ Logos.’
Logos is a Greek word which means, ‘word, or reason or logic.’ The closing gospel for Badarak is traditionally from John 1, where we hear, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” To add in the aforementioned Greek word, the text would read, “in the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” Logos means Word. The ‘log’ portion of ‘Logos’ is the root of the English word: ‘Logic.’
When we engage people in logical discussions and encourage reasonable dialogue, we are sharing Christ with them. In this light, reason is understood to be evangelical, as it is spreading the presence of Christ. Calling sinners to repentance is synonymous with calling people caught up in unreasonable ways of thinking into reasonable ways of thinking.
So when we hear people speaking in ways that are unreasonable about politics or religion we, who are to live as lovers of truth and reason are to try to engage them in reasonable dialogue. Encouraging them to examine this or that issue logically.
Calling people to examine important issues logically is calling them towards the truth.
So yes, we are to engage in discussions about politics and religion and any other important topics. Not because we love controversy, but because we love God and are called to lovingly represent the One who is Truth, which in turn will hopefully help others come to value Truth as well.
Our efforts to discuss controversial issues are to be done with a certain spirit. In fact, abiding in God’s Spirit is the sole milieu in which we are to engage in controversial issues.
In Colossians St. Paul writes:
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (and) put on love, … let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. and be thankful. (Col. 3:12–15)
If we are clothed with these virtues as we engage in politics, especially on the most divisive issues, we can offer a positive witness to the gospel.
At a very practical level, this includes researching political controversies and checking the facts before commenting, asking questions, looking for opportunities to learn about different perspectives, and listening with genuine interest.
In addition to engaging in civil, loving discussions, we are to help others do the same with one another. We can accomplish this by the grace of God in two ways: By serving as translators and by being peacemakers.
When we hear the word ‘translator’ we often think of a person translating from one language to another. Yet in the Armenian tradition the term ‘translator’, or tarkmaneech is used in two ways: One is, of course, literal translation from one language to another, like Greek to Armenian. The other meaning of translator is closer to ‘explainer’. People are often unable to find harmony with one another because they do not take the time to really understand the view of the other. Part of our call as Christians is to help people really hear one another. We develop this ability when we open our hearts to God, and then focus on listening; particularly to God and how His words resonate in our heart. It is in this prayerful relationship with God that we develop the ability to truly hear one another and to help others to develop an understanding for each other.
We are called to act as peacemakers. We are to help serve others by sharing with them Biblical perspectives on understanding world events that are hard to wrap our brains around. Helping others to have a Biblical mindset helps them gain peace with one another, and to find peace with God.
One of the greatest biblical peacemakers was Joseph. Joseph (one of the twelve sons of Jacob-Israel), was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers because they were jealous of him. As a result of their actions and mistreatment, Joseph was enslaved and imprisoned. Yet, despite his brother’s sinful intentions, God blessed Joseph. God revealed to Joseph that a famine was coming upon the land of Egypt, years before its arrival. This enabled Egypt to prepare, and ultimately to have enough to feed their citizens throughout the years of famine. Due to God’s blessings on Joseph, Joseph gained favor with Pharaoh and was promoted to be the second most powerful man in Egypt. During Joseph’s holding this high position, one day his starving brothers were brought before him. They had come to beg for sustenance from Joseph, without realizing it was him. Rather than dealing cruelly with them to enact revenge, Joseph made peace with them, because he saw in retrospect that what his brothers had done to him in cruelty, God used to bring about blessings. He even said to his brothers, “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Gen. 45)
Joseph saw and believed in God’s providence, and that God worked to transform even evil intentions into good outcomes. Joseph’s insight teaches us that even though sin and cruelty exist, God still is working to bring about good in due time. Years before St. Paul wrote it, Joseph believed that: all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
Being a peacemaker means maintaining an awareness that God is at work, even during times when it is hard for us to understand what He is doing. God is always working behind the scenes. As Christians we believe this and remind others of this reality, citing Biblical examples and even examples from Armenian history, such as when St. Gregory was tortured, and then imprisoned for thirteen years before finally curing King Dertad of Armenia and converting our nation.
This holiday season let us seek to find our peace with God daily. Then, as we abide in His peace, let us serve as agents of the Prince of Peace throughout this Christmas season, so that the love of Christ may be made incarnate among us.
May Christ be revealed daily in our midst.
Fr. Tavit Boyajian