It’s debate season. Actually, for this competitive collegiate debater, it’s almost always debate season. I spend my days researching foreign policy and doing speaking drills, and it’s taught me a lot more than how to win an argument.
College is a formative time for anyone—you’re exposed to new ideas and opinions, you meet new people with different backgrounds, and you learn a lot (mostly about how much you have left to learn). I went through this whirlwind of transformative educational experiences oscillating between two extremes. I attend one of the most politically and socially conservative universities in America, but I spend my weekends with a community of debaters liberal enough to make my professors’ stomachs turn. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from this set of whiplash-inducing circumstances, it’s this: I’m often wrong.
Wrong Isn’t Right
It’s not easy or popular to admit you’re wrong. The current presidential debates (for each party) prove that. Candidates are frantic to explain away the positions they previously held that they now regret. Contenders disagree on every front, even if for only minor or insignificant reasons. It’s what debaters (and politicians) are taught: never back down, never admit you might be wrong.
When former Democratic contender Lincoln Chaffee was asked about why he voted for a piece of legislation in 1999 that contradicts his current position, he responded that he was a newly appointed Senator whose father had recently died. Admitting that you’ve changed your position is unthinkable, tantamount to admitting defeat. Acknowledging that you’re wrong (about anything) requires a level of epistemic humility most politicians either don’t possess or wouldn’t dare publicize.
As it turns out, politicians often share this characteristic with Christians. We don’t readily admit when we’re wrong. We want to have strong convictions and fight for what we believe. Let’s be honest, we can sometimes think believing in absolute truth means we’ve been given complete access to it.
The Right Way to Be Wrong
So what does it look like to be a Christian with intellectual humility? How do we acknowledge that we might be (and often are) wrong—without holding all our beliefs lightly? Instead of giving us oversized heads, our faith in Christ should make our interactions characterized by humility and mercy. We may know the omniscient God and Creator of the universe, but we also know that we live in a fallen world.
1. We should be the first to admit we may be wrong about about plenty of issues. Christians should certainly learn how their faith informs every aspect of their lives—from politics to science. But these beliefs should be held with an acknowledgement that plenty of intelligent, kind people (Christians and non-believers alike) disagree. And they might be right.
2. We should enter conversations with those who disagree with us honestly and respectfully—and hopefully productively—acknowledging our limits.
3. Remember there’s a world of difference between “you’re wrong” and “I disagree.” And that could be the difference between a conversation that reflects Christ well and one that discourages any further discussion.
When we prioritize people over arguments, we’re more likely to learn from each other, have more well-supported beliefs and love each other well.