Can I be friends with both sides?
Why not? Oh, wait, I know. You find it hard because one side wants to claim you as theirs and so does the other; and, if you choose one of them, the other will disown you. But, if you choose neither side, both will see you as a potential enemy. Nice. What are you supposed to do when people on both sides are your friends?
Every pastor who has been through a church split or has lost a significant number of people due to a disagreement has noticed that people who are not part of the disagreement also leave the church. They don’t necessarily go with one group or the other, they just go. Why? Because they can’t handle the stress. They just don’t want to be in the middle anymore. They want to find somewhere else to worship so they don’t have to get pulled to the sides.
The Scripture talks about peacemakers. Sometimes you are placed in the middle so that you can remind both sides of the call to love and of the centrality of Jesus, rather than the disagreement. We often become blinded by fleshly emotions when we get into disagreements. Feelings of anger, bitterness, betrayal, and pain become strong motivators in our attitudes and actions. We do and say dumb things. We overstate our position; we demonize the other side; we hurt people who were our friends. Maybe you can help.
But be careful. The peacemakers are blessed in Matthew 5 because their efforts often go unrewarded and unappreciated in this life. Sometimes both sides turn against the peacemaker and you lose all the friends. But the work is important and the effort is rewarded by the Lord.
You see, confrontation and friendship are hard to keep together. If one person disagrees and disagrees enough to confront, that is seen as conflict. When we encounter conflict we naturally (in the flesh) pick up our weapons to defend ourselves. When you get in between the opposing sides, you can get hurt.
Here’s something to consider: many people enter into peacemaking with the idea that the issue just isn’t that important. They maintain their middle position partly because they can’t see what the big deal is. But, if you tell either side that their concern isn’t a big deal, you will probably get slapped down. Both sides have already invested themselves into their concerns. The issues are big enough to lose friends and hurt others. They won’t walk away from the concerns easily.
Instead, show them that the issues they are fighting about are not the center of their faith. There is no requirement for believers to agree on every point in order to “be of one mind.” We must be of one mind toward Jesus. In other words, our minds/hearts should all point to Him.
I knew a man who had great success in working with churches in dispute. He would gather the sides together and write down the issues, the concerns of both sides, so that each had to listen to the other. Then he would give them an hour for prayer. He encouraged them just to take all of these concerns to the Lord, to open their own hearts before Him. Very often, when they came back together, they found that the Lord really did supply answers that brought peace and healing.
Yes, you can remain friends with both sides and maybe, just maybe, you can help both sides find their way back to their friendship/oneness in Jesus.