Many people are familiar with Rodney King’s question asked in light of riots and unrest in Southern California on May 1, 1992, “Can we all get along?” It seems the answer is obvious, but my sense is that even if we can’t, most of us would agree we could do better with our conversations, discussions, and debates.
In my reading the past two or three weeks I have noted thoughtful observations from a variety of authors, that if put into practice, would greatly improve the quality of our discourse. All the authors I will be citing are writing from a Christian perspective about how Christians should interact, and Christians certainly need to hear what is being said, but the points made speak to all our interactions regardless of with whom we are speaking or whatever the subject.
The initial quote that grabbed my attention was in an article by Mark Galli in Christianity Today concerning disagreements among believers about biblical interpretation. He suggests, “We are not asked to be right but to be faithful to the truth we believe God has revealed to us. And to be charitable toward those who believe God has led them to a different conclusion.” While Galli is writing to people who believe the Bible, his basic point about being charitable to those who think differently than we do covers a lot more than just Bible interpretation.
A second article from Christianity Today by Mark Alan Bowald is about the death of longtime professor of historical theology at Yale Divinity School George Lindbeck and what evangelicals can learn from him. Bowald relates Lindbeck’s answer to a question about what holds evangelicals back: “Their unwillingness or inability to be self-critical about the ways in which they undertake and express their commitment.” Again, while Lindbeck was talking about Christians, his point about an unwillingness or inability to be self-critical covers a lot more than just matters of faith. A second lesson Bowald underscores evangelicals might learn from Lindbeck is to be more generous towards those who come from other traditions. I hope it is obvious how this lesson also has a much wider application.
What struck me last week was a couple of comments from John Dickson in his new book A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus. Encouraging readers to take a strong stand in certain matters, he also implores “but do so humbly and graciously.” He concludes the paragraph by cautioning that we should not make our case with smugness on our part or with disdain for those who do not agree.
I realize I am not the first person to raise this matter of how we talk with, to, and about one another. Lots of articles have been written as well as entire books dealing with the subject. As much as I wish we all would get along, I don’t think we all will ever completely agree on much. I think the authors I have quoted give us some real challenges for our discourse and interactions with those with whom we disagree in the Christian community as well as at large.
Part of the reason I am writing about this and citing these observations is that I needed to hear what these writers are saying. How about you?
Do we need to be more charitable to those with whom we disagree? I do.
Do we need to be more self-critical about the way we express ourselves? I do.
Do we need to be more generous towards those who come from a different background? I do.
Even when taking a strong stand, do we need to be more humble and gracious? I do.
Do we need to guard against being smug and/or showing disdain for others? I do.
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(Photo courtesy of the boy’s grandmother, my wife–staged!)