Fences, and people who sit on them, get a bad rap. Granted, that may just be my opinion as one who likes to stay on them. We like to see confidence, commitment, and of course some spicy hot takes. A non-committal person who always looks for the middle ground is at best boring and at worst a slimy flipflopping politician. But for most things in life, you will be much better off by not jumping in too quickly. Eventually, enough is enough and you need to decide, especially with Christianity, but we’ll get to that next week. For now, do you want to join me on the fence? No? Okay, cool.
The Fence Guards Identity
With any subject, humans tend to do two things. We develop an opinion, and then we make that opinion a part of our identity. I like this therefore I am this. Someone believes in limited government and conservative ideals, therefore they identify as a Republican. Another believes in human free will for salvation, rather than a Calvinist predestination, therefore they are an Arminian. The problem is that once we graft a belief into our identity, we tend to automatically set up divisions. Now you not only believe in Calvinism but are against Arminianism.
This is obviously a generalization, and it is certainly possible to be aware of this tendency and counteract it. But we are fighting our natural human instincts in the process. If our identity is in God, it is even more important to resist that instinct. On the fence, it’s easier to hear both sides objectively without needing to oppose either one, keeping your identity, ironically, more grounded.
It’s Easier to Jump Off than to Climb Up
When we tell ourselves we are something, it tends to become true. Think of it like this. I don’t watch Basketball, but say I decided to follow it for a season. I pick a team for no other reason than they have cool colors. I then tell myself I am a fan of the cool color team. I root for them on game day. Then I decide to buy a t-shirt for the cool color team, and tickets to their games. A fan cheers for their team, and against the other team, so that’s what I do. At this point, I have become literally invested in the team. It’s going to take a lot for me to turn my back because they’re my team.
So how am I going to react if I find out the cool color team is run by murderers who stole from orphans? Do I throw out my fan merchandise and find a new team, or do I start finding ways to justify their actions and jump through mental hoops to justify still being a fan? Are we humble enough to do that? Maybe you are, but how many do you think would stay behind? If you’re not ready to be wrong, be careful where you jump.
Why Nobody Likes a Fence Sitter
So you get to guard your identity, evaluate more objectively, and make a more clearheaded decision. Plus, you get to have conversations with people and listen without feeling the need to argue. With all those amazing benefits, how could anybody ever dislike a fence sitter? Part of it goes back to that human tendency to divide. Think about it like this. Our natural sinful nature has a tendency to divide people between fences and have us slinging mud at each other. By staying on the fence, you are not only on nobody’s side, but you are also the easiest target. If you’re not for us, you’re against us. And if you’re not for anybody, you’re against everybody. That sounds dramatic and maybe even like I have a victim complex. To which I say…yeah you might be right. Please don’t throw things at me.
Thankfully I’ve managed to camouflage myself with a couple tactics. First, listen far more than you talk. Dr. John Lennox likes to say “You’ve got one mouth and two ears. Use them in that proportion.” Second, when I do talk, my goal is to mostly ask questions and pass the ball back to them. Most people gladly talk about their opinions, and if they’re doing the talking there’s less for them to get mad at you about. It is however getting more complicated with certain subjects. People demand support, so that even silence or asking questions is enough to get some mud hurled your way. Be careful.
Don’t Be Hasty
Please do not misunderstand me as saying that you should never make up your mind and take a side. I’ll cover next week when and why I think you should. My goal here is not to endorse indecision. Instead, I wish to slow us all down a little and get us to carefully look down before jumping off the fence. So maybe you’re happy down there but let me know if you want to join me on the fence up here. The conversations are pretty great.
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