Conflict is inevitable; lack of charity isn’t.
One of my heroes of Christian ministry, Charles Simeon, served Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England from 1782-1836. During the early years, his evangelical convictions became the target of ridicule and withering criticism, and throughout his career, he fully engaged the theological controversies of his day. Simeon had no fear of debate, but the trashing of reputations that often accompanies controversy gravely concerned him. If an argument’s merits won’t prevail, go after an opponent’s character when he’s absent. Debase his reputation; reduce the esteem others have for him.
To fight against the temptation to speak evil of others, Simeon formulated a strategy. In a July 1817 letter, he counseled:
“The longer I live, the more I feel the importance of adhering to the rules which I have laid down for myself in relation to such matters.
“1st To hear as little as possible what is to the prejudice of others.
“2nd To believe nothing of the kind till I am absolutely forced to it.
“3rd Never to drink into the spirit of one who circulates an ill report.
“4th Always to moderate, as far as I can, the unkindness which is expressed towards others.
“5th Always to believe, that if the other side were heard a very different account would be given of the matter.
“I consider love as wealth; and as I would resist a man who should come to rob my house so would I a man who would weaken my regard for any human being.”
(Hugh Even Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Eerdmans, 1977), 134.