So, comedian Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush are friends and a bunch of people don’t like it.

After Ellen’s big secret was revealed, after she was outed as being tolerant of those who think differently than she does, Ellen was scolded for having a friendship with a former president many believe to be a warmongering gay-basher. The public outcry over two people who disagree on certain things overlooking their differences and being chummy served as another reminder that many people are still terribly intolerant of those who hold convictions that are different than their own.

Ellen’s defense was hardly complicated — she stated that, “I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s ok that we’re all different.”

I hear you, Ellen, I haven’t forgotten.

I am friends with a lot of different people with whom I disagree and who disagree with me. I am friends with people who believe marijuana should be legal. I am friends with people who see all police officers as corrupt. I am friends with Mormons and Muslims. I am friends with agnostics and self-proclaimed atheists. I am friends with people who hate the Confederate flag and can only see it as a symbol of racism, and I am friends with people who fly that flag as a reminder of their heritage, ignoring the negative associations with it. I am even friends with those who fail to see abortion as murder, seeing it as a medical procedure on the same level as the removal of a cancerous tumor — those of you who know me well know that abortion is the issue that riles me the most.

Is it hard to be friends with people who have convictions that so clearly oppose my own? Sure, sometimes. Do those friendships sometimes backfire? By most definitions of that word, absolutely. Do those friendships ever have to end prematurely, when it becomes obvious that our differences continually get in the way of us standing on common ground? Unfortunately, that sometimes happens. Are the efforts worth it? Yes, yes, yes!

I truly like many people who voted differently than I did in the last election or who live lifestyles contrary to my Christian values or who think I’m nuts for believing the things I believe. Most of the time, we choose not to talk about our differences, focusing instead on some of the countless other things we can agree upon, things like sports or Netflix or the weather. Some of the time we do discuss areas of life where we don’t see eye to eye. We do it passionately, but we do it respectfully and civilly. I am determined to convince them to see things my way, just as they are committed to convincing me to change my mind. Such conversations don’t have to be negative — in fact, they can often be blessings.

Ultimately, my goal is talk to all my friends about the hope I have in Jesus. Usually this happens, occasionally it doesn’t. And 99% of those conversations go well too. The person I’m talking to doesn’t always change his or her mind, but they learn something about my convictions, just as I learn something about theirs. Why isn’t this ok? Why must we join tribes of people who only think like we do while casting stones at those with whom we disagree? Jesus had some things to say about that, things to which we should listen.

Do I have haters? Sure, who doesn’t? Most of them don’t know me personally, but they read what I write for this newspaper or hear what I say in a sermon or Facebook video post, and decide that it’s OK to insult me, call me names and make generalizations about me. I don’t like it, but that’s part of life. I am blessed, however, to call far more people with whom I disagree “friend” than “enemy.” I am thankful to God for that, because variety is the spice of life. That isn’t a Bible verse, by the way, but it’s true.

I don’t agree with everything about Ellen’s lifestyle or Bush’s politics, but I believe I could sit down with either and enjoy a conversation. Because it’s the right thing to do, and I believe that it’s what Jesus would do.

I can’t imagine being ridiculed for that.

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Mark Wingfield, pastor of First Baptist Church in Grottoes, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Saturdays.

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