The other night, a couple of old friends came to visit for coffee and a long night of catching up. They were in town for a conference, which made it easy for them to come visit. We hit just about every hot-button conversation you can imagine that night. Politics, parenting, healthcare, celebrity Christians, watchbloggers… Y’know, the average stuff people talk about, right?
The funny thing is that, even in all of these diverse topics, a common theme kept coming up: our shared frustration with straw men.
People who know me know I’m not a huge a fan of hypothetical opponents (or straw men). If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know I’m not a fan of them. This opponent is set up simply to do one thing: let us prove we’re right. It’s a caricature created to defeat an argument or make someone look bad. Also, Jed Mosley.
I see these all the time in books, movies, magazines, and blogs. Straw men are everywhere, birthed by Christians and non-Christians alike. This is why if I were to ask a non-Christian what they think Christians believe about those LGBTQ people, you might hear words like “ignorant”, “outdated,” “hateful,” or “bigoted.” (And if you did the reverse, you might find similar suggestions.) In the end, though, both sides, not just in the example above, but in general, wind up talking past one another constantly because they’re not really hearing each other. They think they know what the other is going to say, and just roll with it.
This all reminded me of something Jerram Barrs wrote in The Heart of Evangelism:
[I]f we are to take seriously this task of setting the captives free, it should be obvious that caricaturing or misrepresenting the ideas of unbelievers will be no help to us. It will simply alienate people, for they will rightly be offended by our failure to treat their beliefs seriously. As well as failing to show respect, we will make our work more difficult by unnecessarily wounding their pride. There is, then, an obligation to understand what others believe if we are going to communicate God’s truth effectively. (212)
That’s convicting, isn’t it? “[C]aricaturing or misrepresenting …will simply alienate people, for they will rightly be offended by our failure to treat their beliefs seriously.” If we care about those with whom we disagree on any issue, we’ve got to fight against our tendency toward caricaturing or misrepresentation. We have to stop trusting in our straw men. Because when you argue with a straw man, even if you win, you lose.