If there’s one thing the Marriage Law debate has achieved, it’s division. Australians have pointed fingers and labelled each other, and many of us need to re-learn how to live in harmony with our neighbours.
We asked Focus on the Family CEO Brett Ryan for his best bridge-building advice. As a former Family Pastor at CityLife Church in Melbourne, he has a wealth of wisdom on repairing broken relationships, and offered the following advice.
Tip 1 – Ditch the Monologue: It’s Time for Dialogue
The best way to start to repair broken-down relationships, in Brett’s mind, comes from the old expression to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”.
“To really get to know somebody, so that you can actually show love and acceptance, is by listening to their story and find out where they’re coming from,” he said. “Unfortunately that dialogue doesn’t take place, it’s often a monologue. So we have to learn to really actively listen.”
Tip 2 – Show Kindness
If someone has acted in ways that have hurt us, retaliation is not the answer. Kindness, says Brett, is a good way to start to build bridges. The Bible says that God’s kindness “leads us to repentance“ (Romans 2:4), and for followers of Christ, this kindness is something we’re called to imitate.
Tip 3 – Let Go of Fear and Hate
Remember that it’s OK to love someone and have a friendship with them, while still holding a different opinion. Don’t be afraid of building friendship with someone whose politics, beliefs or opinions are opposed to yours.
“We need to break the myths that ‘If you disagree with someone’s lifestyle you must fear them or hate them’, and also that ‘to love someone you have to agree with everything they believe or do’” Brett says. “Both those things are nonsense!”
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Tip 4 – Apologise if you Need to
Forget about winning an argument. If you’ve had a disagreement or a conflict with someone, and spoken unkindly in the heat of a battle, the best step towards making amends, is to apologise.
“It’s about being mature enough to say, ‘I didn’t handle this very well, I am really sorry, would you please forgive me?’” says Brett. “If we do that, not expecting something in return, we can actually start mending the bridges and start healing the [rifts] that are a result of our words or our actions.”
Tip 5 – Get to Know People
One of the most powerful things a Christian can do to reach out to their community, is to simply have a conversation.
“We’re doing things out of fear of the unknown or ignorance,” says Brett. “Many people who are yelling at the top of their lungs, really don’t know anyone in this situation. They might say ‘I know some people’ but they don’t really know who they are, and what their hopes and dreams are.
“Have a cup of tea, have a cup of coffee, do something with people to find out how they’re going,” Brett urges. “I think that’s a really good place to start, because then we can really understand someone by hearing what’s going on in their world and what they’ve been going through.”
Tip 6 – Go Easy on the Theology
For people of faith, reaching for Bible verses and theological arguments can sometimes be an automatic reflex. But all too often it can come at the cost of respecting and valuing the person we are talking to.
“It doesn’t matter how much theory we know, we have to show God’s love,” Brett says.”And it’s not our job to ‘get people to repent’, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.”
Tip 7 – The Golden Rule: Do Unto Others
Often called ‘The Golden Rule’, the phrase “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” comes from Luke 6 in the Bible. It’s a key to living at peace with those around you, and building a relationship in which you can share your faith.
“If you want to know how Jesus acted, he loved his enemies,” Brett says. “So even if you’ve got disagreement in your families, and there’s conflict and tension, showing love, kindness, grace and mercy, those attributes or ‘fruits of the spirit’, will actually take the sting out of the battle.”
Tip 8 – Make Peace with Difference
The group that has probably suffered the most during the Australian marriage debate has been the LGBTI community, with many people having to seek counselling, and some having taken their lives. If people of faith can learn to accept people who are gay, and see them as friends and neighbours instead of enemies, it will go a long way towards healing the rifts in our nation.
“The LGBTI community have been ostracised, they’ve been marginalised,” Brett said. “But Jesus was here for the marginalised. He had a heart for them, he actually responded to them with kindness and love. He gave truth, but he also gave grace.”
Tip 9 – What Would Jesus Do? Err on the side of Grace
For believers who hold onto traditional moral principles, it can be tempting to always point out the errors of peoples’ ways. But Brett reminds us that truth has to be balanced with love and grace.
“I think if I’m going to be accused of anything, I’d like to accused of showing too much grace, like Jesus was,” he said. “He knew where people were at, he didn’t condone what they were doing but He accepted them and understood them. He gave them an opportunity to learn.”
Brett points out that everyone has fallen short of God’s ways in some way: “If we expect everyone to have it all together, we’re going to be waiting for a very long time, and our churches and our communities would be empty of people of faith.”
Tip 10 – What Would Jesus Do? Befriend and Accept
Jesus made a difference in peoples’ lives because he was actively a part of their lives, reaching out through friendship.
“Jesus did things that were quite counter-cultural,” Brett said. “He actually hung around people that didn’t necessarily tick all the boxes, and accepted them for who they were. He didn’t necessarily approve of what they were doing, and in there’s a big difference, between acceptance and approval. Acceptance is saying, ‘I accept you for who you are’.”
For more keys to healing broken relationships, and rebuilding trust in the community, see the other interviews in our ‘Healing a Divided Australia Series’, with Peacemaker Bruce Burgess, and Psychologist Collett Smart.