Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How to Speak the Truth in Love

Pundits, commentators, bloggers, and other opinionated people like me have been lamenting the demise of civility and the polarization of public discourse. I believe that that polarization has made humility in our discourse nearly impossible.

And we who decry the polarization offer precious few examples (perhaps because of their scarcity) of those who have dared to speak with humility, conviction and respect. One obstacle to speaking with humility is our aversion to ceasing speech when involved in discourse. We cannot respectfully engage people in discourse if we are unwilling to listen to them.

So here is your high profile example of two men who engaged, listened, spoke with respect, disagreed, and developed a lasting friendship. Shane Windemeyer, the gay leader who spearheaded the boycott of Chick-fil-a for its anti-gay activities writes about his developing friendship with Dan Cathy, conservative head of Chick-fil-a. It is a recipe for disagreeing without being disagreeable. It is a model for those of us who have strong Christian beliefs to engage with those who disagree with us, though they may be Christian as well.

I'm afraid that too often we Christians put such confidence in what we believe to be the truth that we forget the love at the heart of the message. But if we follow the model of these two men, even if we don't change minds on certain issues, we proclaim the Gospel in a manner worthy of the message. Read and learn, people, read and learn.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The War on Truth and Unity

“History reverberates with testimonies of a shameful tragedy. Centuries ago a sage named Socrates was forced to drink hemlock. The men who called for his death were not bad men with demonic blood running through their veins. On the contrary they were sincere and respectable citizens of Greece. They genuinely thought Socrates was an atheist because his idea of God had a philosophical depth that probed beyond traditional concepts. Not badness but blindness killed Socrates. Saul was not an evil-intentioned man when he persecuted Christians.  He was a sincere conscientious devotee of Israel’s faith. He thought he was right. He persecuted Christians not because he was devoid of integrity, but because he was devoid of enlightenment. The Christians who engaged in in famous persecutions and shameful inquisitions were not evil men but misguided men. The churchmen who felt an edict from God to withstand the progress of science, whether in the form of a Copernican revolution or a Darwinian theory of natural selection, were not mischievous men but misinformed men. And so Christ’s words from the cross are written in sharp-etched terms across some of the most inexpressible tragedies of history: ‘They know not what they do.’”
—Martin Luther King, Jr. “Love in Action” in Strength to Love

Dr. King could find similar examples in our own day. Sadder still: We have come to the day that Dr. King seemed to want to prevent. The blindness of which he spoke has deteriorated into sinfulness.

A great example is the now quadrennial dustup over pray-ers at the Presidential inauguration. Some of us—apparently only a few of us—are overcome with giddiness when the diverse spectrum of speakers is announced. Four years ago Martin Luther King lieutenant Joseph Lowery (I was his backstage host at a youth ministry event in 1995) and Rick Warren (I led our church’s version of 40 Days of Purpose in 2006) were invited to pray. This time the line-up included Myrlie Evers-Williams (civil rights activist and widow of martyr Medgar Evers) and Louie Giglio (of Passion Worship Movement fame).

But not everyone shares my glee at this diversity. Others operate with obligatory disgust and begin their dirt research. And then the Inauguration Committee’s gesture of unity gets trampled by polarization and namecalling. Welcome to the culture wars!

True to form, someone, who obviously objects to a conservative Christian praying at a Presidential inaugural event, found an old sermon that they believe disqualified Rev. Louie Giglio from praying. They justify this inquisition, probably calling it their journalistic obligation. But more likely it “needed” to be done to stop those Bible-thumping, ignorant, homophobic, right wing fundamentalists from forcing their religion down our throats. Typical outrage ensued, and Mr. Giglio withdrew. The anti-conservative-Christians camp had won. And the unity of our nation took another little blow.

I admit to wishing Mr. Giglio had chosen, like Rick Warren did four years ago, to tough it out and pray for our nation on the occasion of a Presidential inauguration. But I don’t know all of the deliberations that he and his advisors entertained before pulling out. And I honor the respectability of his statement.

This event doesn’t end with the dirt-digging and the decision to withdraw. Well-meaning Christian leaders decided that this is another chance to decry the Obama Administration’s so-called War on Religion. They didn’t have to look far or say much—just  hint that Louie was invited to pray and now he wasn’t praying. ‘Nuff said, right? We all know what happened.  And we must call out the Godless, liberal, Leftist, gay agenda of the Obama Administration.

Except that this incident is an example of just the opposite. The administration’s Inaugural Committee designed the event, invited the guests, and received acceptances.  Among those accepting was Mr. Giglio, whose inclusion in the program was reportedly at the President’s personal request. No further action was taken by the administration until Mr. Giglio withdrew, at which point the Inaugural Committee issued a carefully worded statement emphasizing their desire for inclusion, a desire they demonstrated by inviting such a diverse roster of participants.

Some prominent Christian leaders have ignored the facts. One example comes from Rev. Russell Moore:
“When it is now impossible for one who holds to the catholic Christian view of marriage and the gospel to pray at a public event, we now have a de facto established state church. Just as the pre-constitutional Anglican and congregational churches required a license to preach in order to exclude Baptists, the new state church requires a “license” of embracing sexual liberation in all its forms.”

But the “state” did no such thing. The “state,” meaning The Obama Administration, meaning “The Enemy” invited a prominent Evangelical Christian, who accepted the invitation, and then withdrew under pressure that had nothing to do with the “state.” Perhaps there was a tinge of persecution in the 48 hours between Giglio’s acceptance and his withdrawal, but his defenders’ outrage mocks real religious persecution and ignores the fact that the “state” was the inviter, not the persecutor.

 If I follow Martin Luther King here, I acknowledge that these Christian leaders were just mistaken. In their zeal to defend their rights and their beliefs, they were blind. King warned us in the church of the seeds of this phenomenon which has sprouted and blossomed into a malicious weed:

“Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent. Must we not admit that the church has often overlooked this moral demand for enlightenment? At times it has talked as though ignorance were a virtue and intelligence a crime. Through its obscurantism, closedmindedness and obstinacy to the truth, the church has often unconsciously encouraged its worshippers to look askance at intelligence.” --“Love in Action” in Strength to Love

It’s possible that their blindness reflects innocent ignorance, but I suggest that their blindness was stoked by their desire to believe something other than the truth. Their devotion to the “Obama is anti-religion” narrative blossomed into an unwillingness to pursue the truth.

This is an object lesson. I am not interested in pointing out who is the worst offender in this scenario. This kind of thinking is a reflection of our times. We line up on either side of any number of issues and lump all of those who disagree with us as into an evil entity identifiable by a buzz word. All we have to say is “fundamentalists” or “Socialists.” We say, “the Left” or “Right Wing.” Sadly even “conservative” and “liberal,” “Democrat” and “Republican,” and “Bush” and “Obama” are code words for “the enemy.” And we hyperbolically decry a War on Religion, a War on Women, a War on the Family, and a War on Equality, and we feel justified, even obligated, to demonize those—even those driven by their faith—who think differently.

As a Christian I am particularly grieved when Christian leaders are perpetuators of these battle lines. In this case once they had determined that those other folks are actually evil, nothing else mattered, even the truth and love in the Gospel of Jesus. The actual facts didn’t serve their narrative so they perpetuated a lie. And they told it and told it and told it so that their lying storyline could survive. This is when their blindness became sinfulness.

Intellectual blindness is not the problem; a total disregard for truth is. My best prayer is “Father, forgive them,” whether or not they know what they do.