Defending Convictions with Gentleness and Respect
Richard Mouw focuses on “gentleness and reverence” in that popular verse from 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Mouw challenges Christians not to forget the need to honor everyone in the way they engage culture and speak in public spaces.
The historian Martin Marty, once said that “people who have strong convictions are often not very civil and people who are civil often do not have strong convictions.” Now Richard, I know enough about you to know that you don’t see things quite that way. Say a little bit about what it looks like to have strong convictions and to be someone committed to civility.
Well, I think Martin Marty was right empirically. I mean, I think it is the case that a lot of people who have strong convictions just aren’t very civil. I think a lot of people who are civil, are civil precisely because they don’t have very strong convictions.
But I don’t think it has to be that way and I think especially in the Christian world, very often the kinds of Christians that many of us would identify with in the Evangelical world are pretty far removed from “convicted civility” as Martin Marty would describe it. But, I do think that there’s a biblical mandate.
You know, I was raised in the Evangelical world where we were constantly being told, 1 Peter 3, “Always be ready to give to any one who asks of you a reason for the hope that lies within you.” Stand up for the truth. Know what you believe. But seldom did they go on to the next part of the verse which says “but do so with gentleness and reverence.”
What does it mean to disagree with someone, and in that disagreement, treat them with gentleness and with reverence? And to me, that’s the challenge. It isn’t so much that we have our biblical convictions and then we’ve got to try to be civil, but the Bible itself mandates a conviction about civility and that is the honoring of other human beings, which I think is very important.
So the things we are committed to, that are at the very core of our convictions, the idea of love, treating the neighbor with love, draws us into civility. It’s a natural connection.
Yeh. Even in Peter’s first epistle, where at another point he says that we ought to fear the Lord, we ought to love the brothers and sisters in the faith, agape love, and we ought to honor the emperor. Then he says, “But honor all human beings.” And that honoring of all human beings, the important thing for thinking about the spiritual dimensions of that is that, how do we bring ourself to the point where we actually engage in that kind of honoring and that kind of reverence and gentleness toward other human beings?
And I think that’s a big challenge for us today, because lot of our spirituality has been a spirituality of confrontation and combat, warfare, and it’s important to think in very different terms because I think the Bible tells us to.