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The Secret to Christianly Engaging Disagreements

The Secret to Christianly Engaging Disagreements

Megan Phelps-Roper is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. This church is a hyper-Calvinist Christian sect that is widely thought of as a hate group. The church became famous for obnoxiously demonstrating at the funerals of soldiers who died in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point, Megan was the spokesperson for the church.

Over time, she came to the conclusion that the church’s beliefs were wrong, and completely disassociated herself from it. After leaving the church, her beliefs have dramatically changed. She no longer considers herself a Christian, and does not believe the Bible was written by people under God’s inspiration. She considers it to be merely a document of people trying to understand how to be good – much like other belief systems that have that goal. After leaving the church, she became a social media activist who lobbies to overcome divisions and hatred between religious and political divides.

A part of her journey in leaving the church involved figuring out how to check herself as she sought to unwind her life from the cult while interacting with people who held other beliefs. While no longer a believer in Christ, she has done some deep thinking about how to avoid falling prey to false beliefs, and has come up with six questions to help with that. She uses these questions to try to keep her discussions honest. Notably, these are questions even Christians can, and ought to, use to examine their own faith. While this may seem to some a strange quest, it is not as strange as most may think.

Christian pollster, George Barna, in some of his latest polling, has discovered that only 4% of Americans hold a biblical worldview. Another four percent are adherents of other religious systems, while 92% percent hold syncretistic beliefs – a mixture of contradictory beliefs. The tricky part of understanding this is that most of this 92% self-identify as Christians – and they don’t even realize their errors. Thus the need to have a way to do a self-check. Here are Phelps-Roper’s six questions, and how they can be used by Christians.

  1. Are you able to entertain real doubts about your beliefs, or are you operating from a position of certainty?

Now in some ways, this question is a little tricky, and it is necessary to address it in a nuanced way. The word “certain” is a trap word. It conveys the idea that a person believes there is proof they are right.

The problem is, ideas are not subject to that kind of evaluation. We can have assurance or a firm conviction, but “certainty” is not a biblical term and is not useful in this kind of discussion. Using that word only invites dispute from people who disagree, without there being a mechanism to give prove they are wrong. People who say they are “certain” that their beliefs are true have no way to argue except to make unsupportable statements.

What we can do is “feel” certain, have strong personal assurance, or hold a firm conviction. There is evidence people can put forth for and against various beliefs, even our Christian faith – and people do it all the time. It is up to us to understand and use that evidence properly to give an answer for the hope that is in us.

  1. Can you articulate the evidence you would need to see to change your perspective, or is your position unfalsifiable?

It is simply a fact that our faith is false if certain things are true. This is not to say that our beliefs are actually false. What we are dealing with here are hypotheticals. For instance, if it could be proven that Jesus was not raised from the dead, that would prove Christianity is not true. Even the Bible makes that point. This exercise forces us to focus on, and intelligently affirm, the beliefs that are essential to our faith.

  1. Can you articulate your opponent’s position in a way they could recognize?

The point here is to be honest about the beliefs of the person you are opposing. It is not right to accuse a person of believing something they don’t actually believe, then put them down for believing it. I have had people do that to me and it is a false way of arguing. When we deal with the problems associated with another belief system, we need to articulate those beliefs accurately.

  1. Are you attacking ideas or the people who hold them?

This one almost goes without saying, but needs to be said anyway. No matter how obnoxious people might be, we are not battling them – we are battling their beliefs. Opponents are not our enemies, they are our mission.

  1. Are you willing to cut off close relationships with people who disagree with you, especially over small points of contention?

This question is a corollary to the previous one. As Christians, we are trying to reach people for Christ, not push them away. If relationships get cut off because of belief disagreements, it should be because they cut us off, not the other way around. Loving those who disagree with us can be challenging, but again, they are not our opponents, but our mission. 

  1. Are you willing to use extraordinary means against people who disagree with you (violence, celebrating misfortune and tragedy, etc.)?

Attitude is everything. Using violence or celebrating misfortune and tragedy is not the Christian way.

Difficult but Not Impossible

Keeping our mind right can be quite a challenge in many circumstances. To do it effectively requires that we have the right knowledge and the right attitude. It is essential for us, as Christians, to put ourselves in a position for achieving both. It is what God has revealed to be His will for us.

[MarketFaith Ministries’ “One Day Seminary” is a training event that can help equip your church to be effective in expressing their faith in modern society. Contact us at and let’s explore how to bring this opportunity to your church.]

Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books entitled The Truth MirageRules for Christians RadicalsLiberalism vs. Conservatism, and his latest book Shattering the Truth Mirage and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.

You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.

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