We all know people who tend to deplete our reserves of patience and good will. (Perhaps we’ve even been one of these folks.) I’ve taken to identifying such people as “EGRs”: extra grace required. This label, which I adopted from a guest speaker at my church, helps remind me to reign in my irritability and pray for an extra measure of patience when dealing with difficult people. After all, I require extra grace, too.
Interactions within the science-faith arena provide plentiful examples of EGRs. It’s an area of debate where most participants have strong opinions. Add to that the so-called keyboard courage of the Internet and we have a perfect scenario for producing anger, resentment, and hurt.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. My pastor recently kicked off his annual series on relationships with a list of behaviors to avoid. As I listened to him, I kept thinking, “This applies perfectly to all sides of the science-faith discussion!” I share his list below.
- Negativity: This behavior maintains a harsh attitude, allowing resentment to linger and build up until someone “pops.”
- Criticism: Critique is unavoidable in the science-faith arena, but it turns nasty when it attacks a person, instead of addressing a position. An attitude of complaining and blaming cultivates a critical spirit.
- Defensiveness: Maintaining an attitude of defensiveness keeps barriers up and blocks the healing potential of civility and kindness.
- Sarcasm: This is a biggie, especially on the Internet. As my pastor put it, “Sarcasm conveys disgust, which kills reconciliation.”
- Stonewalling: Of all these behaviors, stonewalling is probably the one I’m personally most susceptible to. Sometimes it seems easier to just disengage and avoid interaction than to risk getting hurt.
Romans 12:9–21 provides an excellent remedy for these not-so-gracious relationship killers. (I’ve highlighted portions that stand out as particularly poignant for science-faith debates.)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Verse 18 stands out the most to me: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We will encounter EGRs on web forums, in university classes, at work, at home, etc. While we can’t control their behavior, we can control ours. Just because someone makes a nasty remark about our beliefs doesn’t mean we need to retaliate in kind.
So, before we give in to the knee-jerk instinct to retaliate, let’s stop and consider if our response will kill or build relationships.
Resources: RTB philosopher/theologian Kenneth Samples is a pro at maintaining his cool in the face of mean-spirited comments. Get his tips for staying cordial in debate settings from these resources: