I grew up in Mayberry. I was raised in a time and place where most people believed in God, were proud of their country, knew right from wrong, valued hard work, and forged strong bonds between neighbors.
The older I got, the more I became aware of differences. Differences in background. Differences in lifestyle, in experiences, beliefs, worldview and just about everything else in between.
When I got to college, campus life at a secular university was about as diverse as you could get. Many classmates openly dismissed God, denounced any form of truth, and ridiculed traditional spiritual beliefs as childish, banal. A crutch, they said.
Christians find themselves in a similar environment today. Parents awaken one day to discover their children have left the faith, wandered away from God. Communities that were once grounded in faith have had the foundation of common values dismantled before their eyes. The neighbors and friends we thought shared our beliefs and values as it turns out, share very little except the tide of secularism and unfeigned ridicule for anything that does not abide by the theology of political correctness.
Many in the Christian community have lost hope and along the way become themselves cynical and defensive. In our efforts to defend our faith, we display anything but the faith we claim has transformed our lives.
I hear people routinely ask, “How do I love my child who is not living according to the faith?” “How do I stand up for my faith in the face of ridicule from my co-workers, neighbors, or friends?”
As Christians, how do we navigate the relationships in our lives? How do we build healthy relationships with people who may be different from us? In short, how do we love someone with whom we disagree?
I’ve found eight principles that will allow us to love others well, even in the midst of our differences.
1. Hold unwaveringly to your faith.
In Mark 12:30 (NIV) Jesus said the greatest commandment is to, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. We don’t have to apologize for our faith. Our first commandment is not to honor our feelings, our friends, or even the pressure of a rainbow or hashtag on social media. Our first commandment as a Christ follower is to be passionately devoted to Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Study the Word. Invest in your relationship with God. Know your identity as a Christ-follower. Seek to know and grow in truth. Cultivate beliefs and values consistent with your faith and live them out daily, even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular.
2. Respect others.
Respect simply means we show others consideration, esteem, deference. Respect is not offered as a reward for respect shown to us. We respect others because that is who we are. We should be the model for transformed lives. I Peter 2:17 encourages us to, Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. The second commandment from Mark 12:31(NIV) says that we are to, love our neighbor as our self.
Be with your neighbor. Don’t isolate from them. Consider them. Help them. Respect them. Love them.
Don’t listen to determine if you agree or disagree. Don’t listen to prepare your response. Listen to get to know another —their life, their story. Discover an inner landscape that is different from your own, and enjoy the journey.
Listening is an opportunity for us to learn. In understanding something new or different about someone else, we usually open a door of understanding within ourselves. James 1:19 (NIV) says, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
4. Be humble.
Phillipians 2:6-8 (NIV) describes how Jesus came to earth, saying, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
If Jesus, being by nature God, humbled Himself, how much more should we walk, talk and live out our faith in humility? This does not mean that we shrink back, nor does it mean that we live weak, ineffective lives borne from a weak, ineffective faith. It means that because of the sizable God we have and the strength we have through Him as His children, we choose not to be prideful or arrogant, we remember the brokenness that binds us together within the fellowship of humanity.
5. Encourage others.
Validate them. Build them up rather than tear them down. You may disagree with them on certain issues. Find something you like about them and share that with them. If we focus solely on what we don’t like or agree with, we can never be present with them, we can never show them the kindness, respect, or love God desires us to show, and they will feel our condemnation, whether it is ever verbalized or not.
Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life. ― Henri J.M. Nouwen
6. Stop trying to win a debate.
Focus on the relationship. Relinquish your need to control, to be right, to win. At the end of the day, God is still God. He is still on the throne. He is the one who draws hearts to Him.
2 Chronicles 20:6 (NIV) says, Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Be ready to give an answer for why you believe what you believe, but its not your battle to win – the battle has already been won.
7. Be compassionate.
People usually arrived at their beliefs or lifestyle honestly. Judgment and condemnation do nothing to show people God’s love or draw them into the kingdom. Even though others judge us, speak unkindly or mock us, we do not need to lash back.
Offering compassion allows us to lean in and experience their humanity, to build community with them. They, too, were created in the image of God. Pray for them. Walk with them. Show compassion towards them on their journey. Many times we don’t know their battles, we can’t see their pain, we can’t feel their scars.
8. Give of yourself, without betraying yourself.
Never sacrifice your faith or betray your beliefs and values just for the sake of love. That is not love. Those who demand you abandon your most deeply held principles to prove your love betray the very essence of love.
We can love those who are lost. We can show them both compassion as well as truth. We can learn to draw healthy boundaries to our love that allows us to preserve our identity, and our core principles while creating a safe space where we can enjoy being in relationship with others.
Isn’t that how Jesus engaged others? He never diminished or ignored sin. He never twisted a lie to become the truth, but he was fully present with others, even others with whom He disagreed. He never tried to win a debate. He owned the truth, He was the Truth. He simply shared the Truth of God’s love, He lived out His faith, and He lovingly and compassionately spoke the truth to others.
In a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant, hateful, and extreme, it is vital that we step outside of the culture of hate and condemnation, and develop relationships that will honor ourselves and others, that will offer an environment of mutual safety and respect so that all of our relationships can flourish.
How do you love those with whom you disagree? Are there areas where you have struggled? How would you like to love others differently?
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (New York, NY: Crossroads Publishing Company, 2002).
Photo courtesy of Patrick Berger.