I run a small RocketChat server. Nothing major, just a handful of friends in a private chat, my own personal contribution to the XKCD Chat Platform problem.
I’d love to have more of my friends in it, but RocketChat has a strength that is also its fundamental weakness – the “general” room. Everyone is in it. I can change that behavior if I want, but that’s not the point.
I’ve got 850 Facebook friends…and only five of them are in RocketChat. Now sure, the nature of the term “Facebook Friend” comes into play here; I’m sure my one FB Friend I met on AIM nearly 20 years ago may not be much of a candidate, nor would the sister of a relatively new friend I met in an online community but sent me a request anyway, but even if I put 90% of my Facebook friends into that category, I still would have trouble getting 85 of my Facebook friends in the same chatroom together.
It would eventually devolve into an argument. That argument would then have chilling effects on discussion thereafter – some people would leave. Others would ignore the general chat and stick to the PMs. Discussion after that would become surface level, as nobody wants to ignite another powder keg. Then, one inadvertently starts, and the cycle begins anew until there’s nobody left except whoever agrees with the last person to win the argument.
I feel like the advice in Matthew 18 is timeless and incredibly relevant, even if you’re more of an Atheist than Richard Dawkins…but I feel like there are concepts between the lines that are worth exploring. For those who aren’t familiar with the passage, it goes like this:
15 If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
The underlying assumption here is that there is, at some level, a mutual desire to rectify a relationship. Also assumed here is that there is a shared agreement on an authority. Both of those are less of a given in modern society. John Oliver said it well when he described a segment of discourse between an Infowars reporter and a very left-wing protester: “What we do have there is a nice distillation of the current level of political discourse in America: two people, who don’t really know what they’re talking about, being condescending to each other nonsensically until one of them lands a sick burn.” While in Oliver’s clip it’s unlikely that either party had a desire to achieve consensus, I submit that the notion of salvaging a relationship at the expense of winning a particular argument seems sufficiently lost on modern society. Getting one’s perspective shifted is a fundamental requirement in order to make any headway, but the willingness to do so seems to be in short supply.
Once there is agreement that the intent is to salvage a relationship, the private discussion between two people disagreeing is useful because it prevents the spread of rumors and helps to address small grievances on a small scale. To bring two or three witnesses into the disagreement is to provide an outside perspective; ideally one that would impact how both people would approach the disagreement, and hopefully the input would be received well enough to achieve a resolution without things escalating further.
Getting to the ‘take it to the church’ situation here, that part gets a bit interesting because of the concept of ‘church’ at that time – Jesus wasn’t describing a group of several hundred people with an elder board…though thinking about it a bit more, Jesus was talking to a crowd more familiar with the temple system, which very much did have a hierarchal structure and political power so I need to do a bit more research on that topic…but, I think it’s safe to say that there is a case to be made about taking the dispute to a mutually recognized source of authority, to whom both parties consider themselves subject to their ruling.
If, one party decides that the ruling isn’t valid for whatever reason, then “treat them like a tax collector” is notable in that, while they were considered so undesirable in their society that the gospels commonly reference “sinners and tax collectors”, indicating an “even worse than sinner” connotation…but, at the same time, the audience of this teaching still dealt with tax collectors. Perhaps it was begrudgingly, perhaps it was a “get in, collect your taxes, get a receipt, and get out” sort of a deal, but Jews still had to work with them, and every so often, there was a Zaccheus – a tax collector who turned from his ways.
I think this sort of clear and direct escalation is incredibly relevant today. The fact that society has generally turned to “sick burns” as a way to decide how an argument is won, and winning more desirable than reconciliation, is the sort of fundamental shift Jesus spent time encouraging His followers to avoid. The results of this shift have clearly caused a level of enmity that divides people who could probably “agree to disagree” successfully under Jesus’ system, but are sworn enemies on Facebook.
This leaves me with a sparsely populated RocketChat server, and social gatherings which are fewer and further between than even five years ago. Whether you identify as a follower of Christ or not, I can guarantee there’s someone you disagree with on something. You probably agree with them on ten others. Try focusing on that, and try salvaging a relationship. It won’t be fun, but it will probably be worth it.