R.I.P, The Benefit of the Doubt

by | Feb 9, 2021

Recently a friend and I were texting. Everything was fine, until he sent a message I couldn’t exactly understand. An unclear text is a common problem. All of us have both received and sent confusing texts. And the solution is simple: Ask the sender to clarify what he or she meant. Or assume the best, give them the Benefit of the Doubt, and move on with your day. I could’ve done either of these things. So, of course, I did neither.

Instead, I got defensive because my friend—I assumed—was being snide. Snarky. I assumed he was coming at me. So, obviously, I had to go right back at him. I had to make crystal clear what I did and didn’t mean. I had to clear my name because, well—okay, there was no good reason. And that was obvious to both me and my friend. Sensing my touchiness, my friend graciously clarified what he meant, and he graciously rebuked me.

“You been on Twitter too much,” he said.

 “You know,” I responded with embarrassment, “I can’t even argue with that.” To make matters even more humbling, this text exchange happened on my birthday. When I understood what my friend meant, it was clear all he was trying to do was celebrate me. Sigh.

 

Drunk on Distrust

This article isn’t about how much is too much time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or your preferred social media beverage. This post is about something so many of us seem to be drunk on nowadays—suspicion. Distrust now seems to be synonymous with discernment, and assuming the worst now is lauded and retweeted as virtue. Nowhere is this clearer than public “conversations” about race and racism on social media.

It seems we can’t type 280 characters without hearing something someone isn’t saying or saying something people aren’t hearing. To be clear, I’m not describing a communication phenomenon in the world, though, no doubt, it exists there. I’m describing communication in churches, among Christians, and that’s the problem. We’d expect this hostility in the world. But in our churches? Of course not…right?

 

Christians Should Listen Like Christians 

After all, aren’t we Christians supposed to be quick to listen and slow to take offense (James 1:19)? Aren’t we supposed to believe all things (1 Corinthians 13:7)? If that’s the case, what happened to giving one another the benefit of the doubt? What happened to assuming the best when we weren’t sure what someone meant? What happened striving to hear a better word than the person even spoke? Yes, we Christians are to be snake-like in our discernment. Some hard, past experiences may cause us to tread lightly (and thus, wisely) around certain folks. But should those past experiences rob us of all our innocence, of all our hope for our brothers and sisters? Isn’t snake-like wisdom to be coupled with dove-like innocence (Matthew 10:16)?

I ask because there is a great temptation for us to spend our time slithering around in suspicion. It seems so many of us would rather pull back our trust in conversations rather than extend goodwill. And Satan is loving it. After all, nothing kills intimacy and fellowship like suspicion and distrust. Nothing blurs the church’s bright witness of love like strife riddled with skepticism.

But all hope is not lost. Jesus is not done with us yet. And praise be to God, what he would have us do isn’t rocket science, though today it may be revolutionary. When it comes to difficult conversations about race, you can be a blessing by doing one simple thing in most of your conversations: Give the benefit of the doubt. Believe the best. That, beloved, is how bridges will be built.

 

The End of The Matter

Someone much smarter than I could write an insightful essay about how Americans are often distrustful of authority, and how this cultural proclivity has pervaded our churches. But I leave you with my simple point: If we want better conversations about race, charitable listening is a must. Without it, we will continue to be distracted from the real issues in our conversations. Without it, we’ll continue to distort what people are (or are not) saying. Without it, we’ll continue to wrongly divide from one another. The world will notice. The Enemy will rejoice. And the Lord will be grieved—though not mocked. He will hold us to account for our stingy listening. Shouldn’t these truths make us want to be big spenders when it comes to charity, beloved? If our wallets are our ears, what could happen if we opened them just a bit more? It’s a risky proposition, I know. But then again, so is love.

 


Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray that Christians in your church would value trust more than charity.
  2. Pray that God would give you snake-like wisdom and dove-like innocence in your conversations.
  3. Pray your unbelieving neighbors would notice how you and believers in your community speak—and listen to—one another.

 

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Author

  • Isaac Adams

    Isaac is a husband, father, author and the founder of U?WP. He is the lead pastor of Iron City Church in Birmingham, AL. @isickadams

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