by Mark Turco
Imagine a world where no one took offense at someone else’s words, tweets, or Facebook posts.
Don’t misunderstand, there would still be plenty of people saying plenty of foolish, insensitive things; it’s just that we would choose to not be offended by those comments.
As a Protestant Christian minister living in a predominantly LDS culture for the past 14 years, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with religiously offensive material from friends and neighbors (I’ve been asked on multiple occasions when I’m converting, and when I was single, how I ever expected to find a wife without converting). At times I’ve found myself almost relishing the idea of being offended. How dare people make assumptions about me? How dare people question the validity of my faith?
But then I think about the words of Jesus. Most people, regardless of religious background, are familiar with and approve of at least a few of his well-known statements: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Judge not lest ye be judged.” But how about this one from Matthew 11:6: “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended…”. What are the blessings that come from living an offense-proof life?
First, it will probably improve your quality of life (and depending how often you check your social media feeds, might significantly reduce blood pressure, but I’m no doctor). It’s in the same category as that sage advice James gives in the first chapter of his epistle, also recorded in the New Testament: “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” So much of what offends us does so on a gut level and causes a knee-jerk reaction, giving us precious little time to take a deep breath and actually think before responding.
Second, and even more important, refusing to be easily offended allows us to lean into and better understand another person’s point of view. This is especially important in religious dialogue, where we not only have a lot of emotional capital invested in our beliefs, but we also usually have misunderstandings about others’. When we’re triggered by something offensive, that’s an opportunity to first and foremost listen and learn. Instead of immediately trying to defend our position, refusing to be easily offended allows us instead to better understand our neighbor’s position, which leads to more fruitful dialogue going forward.
Jesus may never have scrolled Facebook or Twitter, but he still had plenty of people around him by whom to be offended, from thick-headed disciples to envious religious leaders. Being offended, however, costs something: distance from the one causing offense, and I think Jesus loved people too much to bear that separation.
Mark Turco was born and raised in Florida and moved to Utah in 2007. He enjoys playing the
violin, juggling, and tap dancing, although he’s never tried all three at once :)
Mark teaches fourth grade at an elementary school in Salem, and is an assistant pastor at New
Community Church in Orem.
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