Ernest Campbell, once the preaching minister at NYC’s Riverside Church, preached a wise sermon entitled “Every Battle is Not Armageddon.” It wasn’t a sermon about end-time prophecy or an apocalyptic war in the Middle East. Instead it was a sermon about discernment–learning to tell the difference between issues, challenges or crises which demand full engagement and those which call for more measured response–or, even, for deliberate non-response. (About non-response: I once had a mentor tell me that a wise leader learns to “ignore or overlook some things forcefully”).
There are some people who escalate nearly every issue they face or every difference of opinion they encounter to the level of absolute right versus absolute wrong, good versus evil, light versus darkness. They lack the capacity to recognize that there are some differences that are simply differences–matters of perspective or preference, growing out of varying personal experiences and background. They can’t recognize that some conflicts aren’t worth the emotional equivalent of bloodshed. For them, tolerance is weakness and diversity is a threat. They seem genuinely to believe that, unless things go the way the feel they should, we’re all headed to hell in a hand basket. They often have a “my way or the highway attitude,” because they are convinced that their way is the only right way. Every battle for them is Armageddon.
It seems important to me for us to develop the kind of personal humility which acknowledges that our grasp–our perspective–on the truth is not the same thing as the full truth. No matter how smart or informed or aware we think we are, we “see in part” and “through a glass darkly.” What’s more, it’s possible for us to be wrong even about the things that matter greatly to us. History (including biblical history) is filled with examples of people whose zealous conviction that they alone were right led them into blindness, harshness, and, even, violence.
Most of the time, when we find ourselves in debate or disagreement, what we need is not to armor-up for a crusade, but center-down for a quiet conversation. We need to listen, to pray, and to deliberate. We need to bear witness to what we believe to be true with conviction, energy, and passion but also with humility, patience, and empathy for those who differ from us. Love is the only weapon we need. And, as Hillary of Tours once said: “I am a soldier of Christ; I cannot fight.”