Most people, whatever their political or theological leanings, have their favourite social issues that they are passionate about. 

For some, it’s abortion or gay marriage. For other it’s asylum seekers or climate change. For millions of people at the moment, it’s Black Lives Matter.

When we are convinced of the rightness of our opinion on an issue, it’s very hard to dislodge us from that view. That is especially the case when people challenge our views with facts. We just tend to become more entrenched in our thoughts.

So what do we do if we want to persuade someone who disagrees with us? I find the best thing to do is get to know their story. Listen to them. When we sit and listen to people, we quickly realise that their experience is not an ‘issue’. It’s about their life.

People in a queue

Following Christ means looking beyond the issue to the person, says Nils von Kalm. PICTURE: 

Take the case of Vicky Beeching. She was the darling of the Christian pop music industry until she came out as gay. Her tragic yet hopeful story is told in the book, Undivided. As a teenager and youth, she agonised about her sexuality. When she realised she was attracted to women, she was convinced that God hated her, that she was somehow sinful. She prayed, dated men, and even went through an exorcism to rid her tortured self of her homosexual desires. Through it all she just wanted to follow Jesus. 

After more prayer, reading and speaking to people, she eventually realised that God had made her like this. She knew though that the day she went public about her sexuality, her music career would be over, such would be the backlash from the evangelical movement. 

"So what do we do if we want to persuade someone who disagrees with us? I find the best thing to do is get to know their story. Listen to them. When we sit and listen to people, we quickly realise that their experience is not an ‘issue’. It’s about their life."

And so it happened. Thousands of people who had hung on the words of her songs turned on her literally overnight, shaming her and calling her all sorts of names.

Homosexuality for Vicky Beeching is not an ‘issue’. It’s about her life, the life of a precious woman of God.

The story of Rami and Aarab, an elderly Jewish man and a young Palestinian man I met in 2018, is similar. Rami’s 14-year-old daughter was blown up by Palestinian suicide bombers in 1997. Aarab’s teenage sister was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper in 2007. 

When Rami and Aarab told us their stories, they sat arm-in-arm. They see themselves as father and son. They told us of the rage they felt when their loved ones were killed. They also told us that they soon realised that committing themselves to violence against the other’s people wouldn’t bring their loved ones back.

Both Rami and Aarab are now part of the Parents’ Circle Family Forum, a group of about 600 Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the conflict between the two peoples. They travel to different countries promoting peace. They reminded us that their blood is the same colour, and they are convinced it is relationships and not the political process that will solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. 

For Rami and Aarab, there is no Israeli/Palestinian ‘issue’. They are both humans made in the image of God who decided to listen to each other and come together in their pain. Theirs is a story of redemptive suffering.

It is when we sit down and listen to each other’s stories that change happens. When we see ourselves in the other, the barriers can come down. This is what the Kingdom of God is like. There is no gay or straight; there is no Israeli or Palestinian.

If the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us anything, it teaches us that God is relational. Relationship is the very essence of who God is. And for humanity to be made in the very image of this God means that our very essence is that we are relational. So, to refer to ‘issues’ when we are talking about homosexuality or Israel/Palestine is to dehumanise those very people who are affected by such things. That is not the way of Jesus.

Look at how Jesus related to people. He never referred to the ‘unclean issue’ or the ‘Sabbath issue’. He always confronted any injustices by uplifting people who were outcast or confronting hypocrisy in the religious leaders.

Consider His healings. Some people He took away from the crowds and healed on their own, while others He healed right in front of everyone. He always dealt with people according to their particular situation and context. It was the same with the people He healed on the Sabbath. Those healings infuriated the Pharisees, but by healing them on the Sabbath, Jesus showed us what is to be prioritised. 

When we prioritise people rather than talking about ‘issues’, we will inevitably come up against the worst aspects of religion, which seeks to depersonalise and dehumanise. By prioritising the healing of people on the Sabbath, Jesus came into conflict with people who were more concerned about rules for the sake of them than they were about the people the rules were made for.

I was at a well-known Christian conference last year at which a speaker told of how they came to know a woman who wasn’t a Christian. After a few weeks, the speaker started to tell this woman about Jesus, but the woman was not responsive. Over the following months, the speaker kept trying to bring Jesus into conversations with the woman. Still the woman wasn’t interested. Eventually the speaker told the woman she couldn’t be her friend anymore because she just wasn’t responding to repeated calls to come to Jesus.

"Behind every ‘issue’ is a human being with their own individuality, gifts and dreams. It is when we do the hard work of taking the time to get to know people and their stories that we see them as God sees them. That’s when we see them as people just like us, with the same dreams, the same passions and the same flaws. And it is then that we realise what Jesus meant when He said to take the log out of our own eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s."

There is no question in my mind that this speaker showed the woman a version of Jesus that is unlike the Jesus we see in the Gospels. She showed the woman a Jesus who will reject you if you don’t see things His way, a Jesus whose love is conditional.

The speaker saw this woman as a ‘project’ rather than a woman made in the very image of her Creator with full dignity and love. No doubt the speaker was totally sincere in their approach and concern for the woman’s eternal destiny. In the speaker’s thinking, love was the motive. It just wasn’t the love we see in Jesus.

Behind every ‘issue’ is a human being with their own individuality, gifts and dreams. It is when we do the hard work of taking the time to get to know people and their stories that we see them as God sees them. That’s when we see them as people just like us, with the same dreams, the same passions and the same flaws. And it is then that we realise what Jesus meant when He said to take the log out of our own eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s.