The button said, “I am not arrogant. I am just always right!” Douglas and I laughed, because it reminded us of some of the uncompromising people in our lives, people who are unbending in their beliefs, even when presented with indisputable evidence that they are wrong. I think that people like that can be frustrating and dangerous in a democracy like ours, where so many people believe that they are always right and the person who believes the opposite is always wrong.
I have had to struggle with this as a Sociology professor, as I tried teaching students who were inflexible in their beliefs system, especially if what they believed had been taught to them by their parents. On the first day of class, I would tell them, “It is not my job to try to change your mind, but it is my job to give you other sides of the story, so that what you believe may be informed.” What I wanted was for them to have open minds and open hearts to hear other views on the subjects. So, I assigned essays that required students to integrate views from multiple sources, meaning to argue more than one side of the issues discussed and then take a side and justify it.
Being a Christian sociologist can seem like an oxymoron, and it was even more so when students questioned how I could be both and still honor God. Admittedly, it was a challenge at times, but I learned not to bring my sociology into the pulpit and not to bring the pulpit into my classes. As a social scientist, I often had to look at all sides of arguments, and then form my own beliefs about how what I studied fit into my religious worldview, but I never tried to get my students to think like me. I did not have to agree with what they believed or wrote, but their work had to meet the requirements of the assignment and show critical thinking and critical writing skills.
There was student in my first class as a Graduate Teaching Assistant who was a fellow Christian. That semester I assigned ten essays, one for nearly every week, that required students to utilize the textbook, the assigned reader, and articles to answer the questions presented each week. This student, no matter the topic, would only use the Bible to argue his viewpoints, never using any other materials. After the first essay, I spoke to him and explained that in an Introduction to Sociology course, the Bible could not be used as a reference.
He advised me that he was a Christian and that everything he believed was based on the Scriptures. I responded that I was a Christian, too, and while I understood that his worldview was rooted and grounded in God’s word, to pass the course he had to read the other materials and use them to answer the questions. I explained that I was not asking him to compromise his religious views, but simply for the class, to think beyond the Bible. I also told him that if he planned to one day work as a missionary, then he needed to know the views of the world around him. I assumed that I had gotten through to him, but it became obvious that I did not do so.
For the next three essays, he did the very same thing, and I failed each one. Frustrated and about to start pulling out my hair, I took the problem to my mentor, who after hearing the problem, told me to warn the student once again to not use the Bible and then if he insisted on doing so to fail him for the course.
But, that was just too harsh for me. I had to find a way to help this student, mainly because I knew how dangerous life can be when someone is so rigid in their beliefs that they are unable to see other people’s views, or are unwilling to see that no one is always right. Being uncompromising leaves people susceptible to violence and it ruins relationships between members of families, nations, and lovers. So, I felt it was my job to find a middle ground that we could both accept.
So, I compromised. I finally saw that being a Christian for him meant that every view he took of the world was fed through his religious beliefs. So, I allowed him to use the Bible if he also used the other materials for counterarguments to what was in the Bible. That meant that if the question was “What are the arguments for or against women working outside the home,” then he could use the Bible to argue his points, but he also had to present the other views from course materials, explaining why he disagreed with them, always remembering to utilize the materials, and not just his opinions.
Well, it worked. He got really good at explaining what was wrong about the scientific materials, but at least he read them and they were planted into his consciousness. At the end of the class, he thanked me for being flexible about the assignment and he came to see that in this world, you need to know the beliefs of others and you should at least be willing to admit that sometimes you get it wrong. That is what learning is meant to so.
That’s why the uncompromising attitudes that I see and hear in America today, divided along party affiliations and ideologies, are dangerous and frustrating. I look at the comments sections on the Internet, and it is filled with “those stupid liberals” or “those stupid conservatives” are going to bring down the country with their beliefs.
It is frustrating to the bone to watch as people reject answers to our social problems simply because someone whom they view as different from themselves suggested them. It is dangerous in a democracy to refuse to see all sides of an issue and to believe that only one group has all of the answers.
I am reminded of Acts 4 where Peter and John were being questioned regarding the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus. The council wanted them to stop preaching and teaching Jesus and His resurrection. Even though 5000 people believed their message of salvation through Jesus Christ only, the council of rulers, elders and teachers of religious law called their claims “propaganda.” They were uncompromising in their beliefs, probably because it threatened their power and standing in the community.
In verse 13, it states, “ Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” The members of the council could not get past the fact that Peter and John was uneducated, unlike themselves, so they tried to threaten them to remain silent.
But they could not do so, as Peter and John kept right on preaching and teaching those who would listen and believe. The uncompromising attitudes of the members of the council meant that they missed out on eternity with God, a dangerous proposition by any accounts.
Today, let us as a nation and in our relationships listen to views that may conflict with what we believe. Then, ask yourself how did you come to believe as you do, and is it possible that in some situations and on some issues, you are just WRONG. Nobody is right all of the time, no matter how much we want to believe that we are.