Culture

When two sides hold different views, is loving conversation still possible?

by Gabriel Ong // January 21, 2021, 5:38 pm

About the pronoun thing

By now I’m sure most of us have heard about a particular piece of news that’s gone viral relating to a transgender youth’s troubles. 

It details a Redditor’s account of being diagnosed with gender dysphoria as well as how the Ministry of Education (MOE) was not supportive of the student’s hormone therapy to transition from male to female.

In response to the viral post, the MOE posted a statement on Facebook to clarify that they do not interfere in such issues as alleged. 

However, what invoked the ire of some online netizens was how the MOE used the pronoun “he” in referring to the student, who wants to be known only as Ashlee. They argue that the MOE should have used the student’s preferred pronoun.

Another point of contention centred on the fact that, in Singapore, legal recognition of someone who identifies with another gender begins only after the person has undergone surgery to change their sex.

Anyway, if you’re brave enough to wade into the comments on MOE’s post, you’ll see that MOE has been absolutely barraged in the wake of the outrage. Honestly, no party involved has come out of it looking good.

So, how do we make sense of what’s happened? And what’s an appropriate response as a Christian? Tough questions. I don’t presume to have all the answers, but I’ll try and figure it out as we go along.

First, I think it’s good to acknowledge the positive ways in which some people have responded.

It is indeed heartening to see the empathy Singaporeans have so vigorously displayed for Ashlee.

At the same time, there is also a line where empathy stops and meaningful engagement descends into the impasse of a culture war. 

But to be specific, what saddens me is the cancel culture on display in some of the comments, where people shut down the views of those they don’t like in ways that can be vicious and mean-spirited.

It’s sad that our freedom to speak in accordance to our beliefs now feels threatened.

In the worst cases, there’s even been doxxing, where people’s identities, livelihoods and faiths are dragged unfairly into the discussion.

I’m committing to being frank, so I have to admit that seeing things like that does make me afraid. Like, even with this article or other things I might say in the future.

Will people dig up “dirt” on me and my family to invalidate my opinion just because it differs from theirs? 

It’s sad that our freedom to speak in accordance to our beliefs now feels threatened.

And I understand that I have some privilege to even say that; other minorities may not have that space to speak freely.

My point is that I fear for the prospect of meaningful discussion if this is the toxic dynamic we will continue to engage in as a nation.

We can never avoid a culture war simply because our world views and beliefs are fundamentally different. Knowing that, as believers, how can we grapple with culture conflict between the kingdom and the world as we encounter it?

How do we respond in a way that is loving yet true to the God we serve?

RESPOND IN LOVE

For simple starters, I’ve learnt through my many years on message boards that it helps never to type out the first thing you want to say. 

If you’re emotionally charged about something you’ve just read, or something someone’s said (was it even directed at you?), take a minute to cool off first.

Process what’s on your heart with God as you reflect on it with your mind. Take some time to study and learn about the issue from different perspectives if you need to.

Then demonstrate empathy in your engagement. Show respect for who you’re talking to and acknowledge that they have intrinsic worth just like you. 

If we don’t have love, it all counts for nothing.

It’s so important to be open to listen to their views – just as you are keen to share your own!

Sometimes, we say things too quickly and it gets a rise out of other people. If that’s what we actually want, then, well, that’s not good.

But if we want meaningful engagement – of which the highest example is in living out and spreading the Great Commission – then we need to choose our words carefully.

We have to always be guided by love and compassion in how we respond.

Because even if we’re the smartest person in the room, have all the experience and all the answers, and can demolish every single argument thrown at us – if we don’t have love, it all counts for nothing.

Christians in a call-out culture

So back to the issue at hand.

Don’t be like that guy snatching flags from food counters. Even when an issue is contentious, we don’t have to be contemptuous to one another.

Make it so that when people hear your voice or read your comments, even if they may not agree with your view, at least they cannot fault you for not having love in what you say or do.

Remember, we’re representing Love Himself. 

RESPOND WITH THE TRUTH

Does love mean everyone is happy and there’s no conflict to be had? 

Well, no, not really. When perspectives clash and values are fundamentally opposed, conflict is inevitable. 

So when it comes to your stand on an issue, sometimes you just have to say it like it is.

Now this also means that we first need to know the truth for ourselves.

Our truth is literally God. Our truth stands on what He says in the Bible.   

We believe what we believe by first knowing God’s heart on matters, from the environment to gender identity issues, to the afterlife. In representing Him, we take our cue from what He says in the Word.

“That may be your truth, but it’s not mine”: 3 reasons why truth is important in a post-truth society

But that’s not all. We also need to know their truth.

Whether it’s a straight or gay person you’re talking to, a migrant worker or a millionaire, if you want to have a productive conversation you need to listen. You need to know how they think, what they believe and why.

Yes, we do. Their truth is a lived reality that we cannot wave away.

There’s no way we can pretend to know what someone like Ashlee has experienced – the only way is to hear it from them.

This may not be the kind of conversation we’re used to having. But we’ve got a great example to follow – there is no one better at tricky conversations than Jesus.

Think about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. This was a woman He was not supposed to associate with or talk to according to the cultural mores of the day.

The cool, “divine” part of the story is how Jesus knew about every sordid detail of the woman’s life even before she told him.

And yet He didn’t start there – as we so often do! 

Instead Jesus started with what they had in common: the well, the need for rest, water. And He used those conversation topics to show her what she really needed – true life.  

In the online world, it feels like we’re not supposed to get along with those who aren’t like us. But that’s not how Jesus rolled at all. He wouldn’t have that. 

We have an opportunity to shed some light and love in the world – don’t waste it.

All that to say, the truth must be shared with love and wisdom, in obedience to God and in line with His Word. 

You share it, as best as you can, with God’s guidance and help, knowing that this is but an ongoing point in the thread your Great Commission life is weaving.

Whenever controversies like these come up, we have an opportunity to shed some light and love in the world – don’t waste it.

For those among us who would rather stay out of it when pressed, the warning is clear: Jesus will deny those who deny Him before men.

So where there’s a stand to be taken, we must not shy away. How can we be the salt and light that Jesus talked about if we would rather stay silent or hidden?

Are you offending others by speaking the truth?

But we do all these things with love, with God in us and through us, knowing that persecution will come regardless.

Only let it be for a good reason – for Jesus’ sake and not because we said or did something stupid of our own accord.

We are different, so let us expect to be treated differently. Remember, right before Jesus asks us to be salt and light, He warns about persecution!

If you are facing flak for His sake, take heart that this is nothing new. Regardless, we are not called to win over the world, but to simply be obedient in sharing His message.

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? WHAT WILL HE DO? 

As I’ve reflected and put this article together, I’ve had to ask myself a few questions. What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? 

I’ve also had to learn a lot. It’s humbled me to realise I need to stay relevant with culture.

In my time, PGP meant “Prince George’s Park” (that’s a far-flung student residence in the National University of Singapore). Now, PGP means “preferred gender pronoun”.

I also learnt about “deadnaming”, which Wikipedia describes as the use of the birth or other former name of a transgender or non-binary person without their consent. 

Why is knowledge like this important? Because I’m living in this culture, and I realise I need to know how to respond to it and stay relevant to those around me.

As long as we can breathe, we cannot stay silent

One final aside, before I land this plane.

I also spent a long time wondering, what pronoun would Jesus use to address Ashlee? 

It’s a tough one because my understanding of Jesus tells me that He loves Ashlee, but He would never be compelled to speak an untruth as Truth Himself. 

Perhaps Jesus would simply respond to Ashlee with “my child”.

Whatever our gender, I know that Jesus would make a way to speak to us because He knows our real need within. It is a deep and profound one that can only be met in Him

In my own life, I’ve learnt that Jesus will meet you where you are – but He won’t leave you there.

He wants to give us a new identity. And that begins when we give our lives to Him.

And for all that we’ve spoken about pronouns and names, here’s the best part: A time is coming when we will get new names! 

In Revelation 2:17 and 3:12, Jesus speaks about the name that will be given to the people of God when He returns to judge the world. 

I think that pronoun – whatever it is – is the one I’d like for everyone to call me by.

THINK + TALK

  1. How well do you know God’s heart on matters concerning the world?
  2. Where do you have the opportunity to shed some light and love in your sphere of influence?
  3. What does it mean to be loving and yet staying true to your beliefs? 
About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.