Friends with “repugnant” opinions
Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash
This morning, I had a random thought about an old friend who came through for me at a time when I needed all the friendship I could get.
I don’t know why I thought of her this morning. Maybe it was the snow falling outside the window. I have good memories of the times she and her roommates hosted me in their home on winter days like this one. They were so generous and kind that I still feel warm all over when I think of them.
Like many friends from long ago, I only keep up with this one through Facebook. Once in awhile, I see her post something about her family and her life and what she is up to these days.
Once in awhile.
Most of what she posts, however, is what I will call passionate opposition to the precautions many people are taking against COVID. She is vigorous in her hostility toward any kind of mask and vaccine mandates.
I do not agree with a single thing that she posts.
In fact, I find her opinions–and here is a word that comes up a lot in the news and social media these days–repugnant.
This is where some people try to “use science” to change minds. What I learned in life, however, is that people do not make up their minds by making careful analyses of facts or using reason to reach reasonable conclusions.
People often form a belief first, then find facts to support their belief.
And beliefs are not islands; they are streams in the great watersheds of our minds. Beliefs flow from, and into, one another to make up the way each one of us sees and understands life and the world in which we live.
So using science to debate my friend is unlikely to go anywhere, especially if I try to debate her on Facebook. I’ve never seen that work.
Besides, I know that she–like most of us–chooses her own facts and where to get them. She can (and does) reject my facts. In her mind, her facts are the right facts and the opinion she draws from them is the right opinion.
I can’t fault her for this. I suppose I do it, too, sometimes.
What I find repugnant about her opinion is that she seems to believe that the common good and public health–the well-being of her neighbors and society at large–are secondary to her personal right to do whatever she wants. This, to me, misses the mark of Christianity, the faith that she claims.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Letter to the Galatians 5:13-14).
I wish I could convince her that, whether or not the government mandates something, Christians use their freedom to do what is best for their neighbors. As a Christian, I did not get the vaccine because the government told me to get it; I chose to get it for the good of the people I love (including the strangers around me every day). I wear a mask, not because the government makes me wear it, but because it is the most simple gesture of love that I can give to my neighbors. Call me a “sheep” if you wish, but remember that that is what my Shepherd calls me, too. We lay down our lives for one another as the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (1 John 3:16).
Let me tell you about another friend of mine.
She is quite sick (not with COVID) and, this week, needed to go to the hospital intensive care unit (ICU) for a life-saving treatment. Except she could not get in. The ICU at the hospital was full of COVID patients (most of whom chose to not take precautions against getting or spreading COVID). My friend had to wait for enough COVID patients to die or get well before she could get the treatment that she needs to survive.
One more story.
My dad has terminal cancer. A few days ago, he found out that chemotherapy is no longer keeping the cancer from growing. His best shot at living longer (so that, perhaps, his new granddaughter might have a memory of him) could be to get into a clinical trial.
The problem is that the hospital–one of the best in the world for cancer treatment–shut down its clinical trial program.
The hospital has so many COVID patients that it could not keep its clinical trial program running any longer.
My sister works in the same hospital. She works the COVID unit.
Do you know what she told me?
Nine out of ten COVID patients in her unit–the one that is overflowing to the point that my dad can’t get the cancer treatment he needs–did not take precautions (including vaccination).
People I love may die because other people who I also love choose to use their freedom on themselves rather than use it to love their neighbors as the Spirit of the Christ clearly commanded.
Am I angry about this?
Will I take out that anger on my dear friend whose opinion I find repugnant?
I find my friend’s opinion repugnant; she is not repugnant to me.
How can I say this?
I can say this because I know her.
Remember: I enjoyed her generosity, kindness, and love at a time when I needed it. She was a neighbor to me at a time when I was a stranger.
And I know that, even though her opinion is repugnant to me, it comes from her desire to do what she thinks is right.
Did I mention that she has young children?
I remember my own feelings of doubt and hesitation when the time came to vaccinate our son. Even after considering all the facts, it is still scary to watch a needle with a foreign substance go into his arm.
I also remember my feelings of doubt and fear when the schools closed. I remember wondering if it was really the best thing to do for our son.
I came to different conclusions than my friend, but I can empathize–even sympathize–with the feelings she had that moved her to a different conclusion. I know her. I know that whatever she did and for whatever reasons she did it, it came from a mother’s love for her family.
And I know she bears no ill will toward my dad or my sick friend.
I think she would say that she cares about her neighbors, but that she has to balance that care with what she believes to be right for her family.
I respect that, even if I disagree with the opinion she draws from those beliefs. Even if I find her opinion repugnant.
I would still be happy to break bread with her.
In fact, I know I would love to break bread with her again. It’s been too long.
I believe that Christianity teaches that breaking bread together is our only hope. The entire New Testament is a call for enemies to come together at a common table to act as friends.
We cannot break off from one another without breaking ourselves to bits.
As the man who wrote the book on Christianity said: “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Letter to the Galatians 5:15).
I know this conclusion of mine may be offensive and outrageous to some people. They may feel that my friend deserves contempt, exile, judgment.
Maybe they are right by some standard of right and wrong.
But the crazy thing about Christianity–the thing that makes it so…repugnant…to common standards of decency and morality–is how it just keeps including people who we think should be excluded.
As Paul wrote in another place: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (First Letter to the Corinthians 13:7).
I am angry as I watch some people I love suffer because other people I love choose behaviors that bring about that suffering. But I also know this: My “anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (Letter of James 1:20).
A fair and just world in which all human beings flourish will not grow if we insist on being angry at one another.
Breaking up gets us nowhere; we must break bread together.
This is the Way.