Assume the best motives for those who disagree

Published 11:51 am Thursday, March 15, 2018

One of the biggest problems in political discourse today is assuming those who differ with us do so out of wrong motivations.

Pastor Paul Robelen

It’s easy to see how this comes so naturally. Suppose I’m opposed to seeing children murdered at school (which I am, of course). I notice that mass shootings tend to happen where guns are forbidden, and by people who are already forbidden from owning guns, and figure that if there was somebody trustworthy there with a gun to stop the person who wasn’t supposed to be there with a gun, there would be fewer victims.

When someone opposes what seems to me an obvious way to see fewer children murdered, it can seem they oppose my solution, and appear to be in favor of the problem. Or, in other words, they are evil people who are so concerned with confiscating guns that they are willing to endanger children to accomplish their wicked agenda.

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This approach is problematic. First, there can be honest differences regarding how to solve a given problem. While it seems obvious to me that bad guys don’t obey gun laws and need to be stopped by armed good guys, it may seem equally obvious to someone else that if fewer guns are available, fewer of them will be used to murder children.

The neighbor who I am regarding as an evil gun grabber out to recreate Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany may, at the same time, be regarding me as a wacko out to recreate the wild west, or apt to join a militia and declare war on our government.

The Bible forbids us to judge each other’s motives. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” (I Corinthians 4:5)

In fact, he wasn’t even willing to confidently judge his own motives. We are told that our own hearts are so deceitful and wicked that we cannot know them (Jeremiah 17:9); if we can’t even know our own heart, how are we supposed to know what’s in the heart of someone else? Furthermore, we are told love “thinketh no evil” (I Corinthians 13:5); that would mean it assumes the best about the other.

That’s the kind of love that we are commanded to have for our neighbor and even our enemies. There’s no getting away from it; we must assume the best motives for those who disagree with us.

This habit of assuming that people on the other side of an issue are wrong is poisoning society. Almost any practical solution for most problems will require compromise, but once we’ve convinced ourselves that our opponents are evil, how can we consider compromising?

We need to get back to a society that doesn’t just treat each other more politely, but deliberately gives each other the benefit of the doubt. Then we may be able find and implement more permanent solutions to the other problems in our society.

Pastor Paul Robelen has led Biblical Baptist Church of Farmville since 2016. Pastor Robelen can be reached via email at