Sacrificing Your Convictions to Be Civil?
Could Christians participate in the “school of public virtue”? We Christians too often embarrass ourselves in public discourse, sitting on the edges of culture, perched in our moral ivory tower. Our offensive tone suffocates any positive message that might impact our friends, community, and nation. Richard Mouw offers thoughts for pastors and local congregations on how to retain convictions and stay civil.
Thank you, it’s great to be here and thank you all for coming today. Barry mentioned my time last week at Calvin College, the opening speaker in the morning at breakfast was Peter Heslom from Cambridge University in England who did a really fine PowerPoint presentation and the first slide up there was H. Richard Niebuhr’s five types. Talking about Christ. Christ against business, Christ of business, Christ above business, Christ in business and tension and Christ transforming business.
We had workshops all day with many fine PowerPoint presentations and then I finished up with the after dinner address with no PowerPoint and I explained why. I have a very good friend Dr. Barbara Wheeler, the recently retired President of Auburn Center in New York City who says power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely. [audience laughs] And I don’t quite agree with her, that’s a Christ against PowerPoint. You could also do Christ of PowerPoint, Christ above PowerPoint, Christ in PowerPoint intentional and my own view is that Christ transforming PowerPoint but I haven’t figured out how to use it yet so I’m still waiting to figure it all out. But it’s a delight to talk to you today about convicted civility.
I was raised in the Evangelical world and one of the verses that was impressed upon me by preachers and evangelists and Bible teachers over and over again, was from 1 Peter 3. Always be ready to give to anyone who asks of you a reason for the hope that lies within you. You know I was sent off to high school, secular high school in New Jersey with the constant mandate, stand up for the truth. Know what you believe you know?
Don’t be afraid to speak about the cause of the Gospel. But you know people seldom went on to the second part and that’s then do so with gentleness and reverence. And the whole question of convicted civility is right there in 1 Peter. That we are to have convictions. That we are to be able to give a reason for the hope that lies within us. But at the same time, to do so with gentleness and reverence. Two weeks ago I spoke to 120 pastors of the Three-Self Churches in China in the city of Xi’an and they had asked me to speak on the subject of, one of the subjects that they asked me to lecture on in a kind of continuing ed seminar was how do we be good Christian citizens in China? Christian citizenship in China.
And I talked about Jeremiah 29 you know, God’s people put into exile. We don’t have a temple anymore, it’s a pagan city, ungodly government and yet, Jeremiah says here’s the new deal from the Lord, that we are to build houses and live in them, plant the gardens and the fruit thereof. Marry off your sons and daughters and flourish in the land and then seek the shalom of the city in which I’ve placed you in exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its shalom you will find your shalom. And that gets repeated really in 1 Peter 2 where the Apostle greets the early church and us too I believe as aliens in exiles but as aliens in exiles we’re to do good deeds among the Gentiles and then these four commands that just, he just lays out.
Four mandates. We’re to honor the emperor, we’re to honor all human beings. Same verb in each case, [speaks foreign language], which is have regard for the wellbeing of, care about their flourishing. [speaks foreign language], honoring all human beings and then a chapter later with gentleness and reverence toward people with whom we disagree. While at the same time fearing the Lord, [speaks foreign language] that’s a much stronger verse, verb than we owe it to the Emperor. We fear the Lord, [speaks foreign language] and for the brothers and sisters in Christ we [speaks foreign language] we agape-love the church but what we owe to all human beings is honor, seeking their shalom.
I got thinking about that back in the early 90s and I wrote this book on civility that really didn’t sell very well. And about seven or eight years ago I walked into the office of a conservative Republican member of Congress with whom I’ve had many good discussions. And he had asked me to stop by and I thought we were gonna talk about some policy issue as we often did and instead he said, “How do we look, out there from California, “how do we look here in Congress?”
And I said, “You look pretty bad.” A lot of incivility and not good government. And he said, “You know it’s even worse than you think.” And he’d been around for decades. He said that book you wrote, you’ve gotta update it and rewrite it and it just so happened that in God’s providence a couple days later in a varsity press wrote to me and said, why don’t you update that book, I think we need it. And now it’s doing a lot better.
But you know my focus on civility as a spiritual, a spiritually grounded, you know gentleness and reverence. Grounded in a virtuous disposition toward people with whom we disagree. Was really fit in the mind general of pilgrimage. Somebody just handed me to autograph a book that I wrote in 1973 called “Political Evangelism” and that was a time when we were just getting started with sojourners and all of that. Evangelicals For Social Action, Ron Sider. I was a part of that whole group and I wrote a book and said we gotta get involved.
You know Evangelicals have to get involved in politics. A lot of you don’t remember but up to then we had sung this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. It’s a lot different than shine, Jesus shine. Fill this land with the Father’s glory. There’d been a real shift in the Evangelical community and a lot of the liberals who’d complained back in the 60s and 70s that we weren’t involved, I think wish we would go back and stop being involved again. But you know we embarrassed ourselves a lot in our involvement.
Going from a cognitive moral minority, seeing ourselves on the edges of culture, waiting for Jesus to return and suddenly announcing we were a moral majority without really having thought through a lot of the theological issues. So we went from a kind of a implicit pre-millennialism to an implicit post-millennialism. Shine Jesus shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory.
We haven’t handled that very well and so for awhile some of us started writing books on theology. How to think theologically about social involvement in politics and that’s good stuff to do and I drew heavily on the Reformed tradition, others drew on Mennonite tradition or Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism or even some of the documents in Early Wesleyanism and Pentecostalism and some even, some of the really good stuff that’s come out of the Vatican in the last century or so but more and more I’m convinced that it isn’t just getting involved and it isn’t just having the right theology but it’s being the right kind of people.
And that’s a spiritual issue. And this is why I think it’s so important for pastors to be thinking about what it means to engage in the kind of spiritual formation for public life, for public discipleship. My friend, the late Ron Damon at Harvard Divinity School, wrote a nice book in which he said local congregations should function, certainly not only as this but certainly in part as this. As what he says, schools of public virtue. As communities that seek to form the kind of character that is necessary for public life. And I like that. And I’m gonna stress the need for a direct address in the life of the Christian community.
To those factors, those sinful impulses, those defective patterns of life that impede the formation of character. I’ve made no secret in my career that I’m fond of John Calvin and at a certain point in the institutes, book four, chapter 20, section 12 if you’re that interested. John Calvin talks about just war theory. And he makes some important observations. He says that when a magistrate or political leader is thinking of going to war, there are two exercises that he, or usually a he in those days, that he oughta go through in order to get ready to decide whether or not to go to war.
He said there are two exercises that’s it’s incumbent upon the magistrate to go through. First of all he says you need to look into yourself and make sure you’re not guided by some misdirected motive. Like a spirit of revenge, the desire to mask, the desire to masking it with pious rhetoric, a desire to take land away from somebody else.
Desire just to show how strong you are, you know, we’re the greatest thing shone on the face of the earth and we can run things if we want to. He says no you have to look into yourself and make sure that you’re not guided by some sinful impulse and then secondly and this is amazing, he quotes St. Agustin in this regard to fortify his point. Reflect on the common human nature that you share with your enemy. And you still may go to war but only after those two things. Look into yourself and a kind of contemplation of your enemy.
Now Calvin was a good Calvinist and he knew that our total depravity meant that typically we’re inclined when we’re disagreeing with somebody to put the worst possible interpretation on their motives and the best possible interpretation on our motives. And what Calvin is basically arguing there is to reverse that. First of all look into yourself and say is there some sinful impulse at work in my life that’s causing me to move in this direction?
And then looking at your enemy and say is there something about the common humanity that I share with that person to whom I owe reverence and gentleness, to whom I owe honor, is there something about that person that I’m missing? And there may not be and your motives may be right and then you can go on. I mean Calvinism against warfare. But I think that says something about our own, our cultural wars mentality as well.
Is there something in us that motivates us to say the kinds of things about people whose moral lifestyle and sexual orientations we disagree with? And is there anything about their common humanity that we ought to be contemplating and thinking about ways in which we can treat them with gentleness and reverence. I wrote a piece in Newsweek a couple years ago. The morning that Prop 8 was voted up. I was a supporter of Prop 8. I worked closely with the Mormon leadership for example in working out some of the strategies for the campaign. I was driving to work that day and came to the center of the town in which I lived and there were two groups of people on opposite sides of the street and I wrote about this in Newsweek.
On one side were the people who were against Proposition 8 and the other side, people who were in favor of it and they had signs stating their position. But they were shaking fists at each other, they were giving the finger to each other and they were shouting at each other and I started to cry. This is not the way we ought to be talking about this and it occurred to me that we need to find those safe places where we can talk in very different ways. You know, when you have a fight with your spouse or with one of your best friends or another family member, a lot of times you say things that just aren’t very nice to say. You get carried away with your rhetoric but very often there comes those moments when you know, you stomp out of the room. I’m never gonna talk to her again, I’m done with this.
And then after you’ve thought about it awhile, one or the other comes and says, hey can we talk? You know all I was really trying to talk about was such and such and I think there’s so many issues that divide us in public life that we Christians have to be willing to say hey can we talk? And then I was on National Public Radio with a gay activist and I said, and this was on Fresh Air. And I said you know, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful “if some of us at least could just shut the door “and talk to each other and you know what? “I’d like you to ask what is it about people like me “that scares you so much? “And I wanna be able to tell you “what it is about what you stand for, “what you’re promoting that really frightens me “about where our culture is going. “Can we just talk about that?”
And to his credit, the gay activist said that’s a wonderful conversation to have. And then they opened that up to callins and somebody called in and said, why are you having Mao on the National Public Radio? You gonna have a slave owner tomorrow, to think slavery. And that gay activist said, “You oughta be ashamed of yourself for saying that. “We need precisely the kind of conversation “that he’s talking about.”
And I think we need that within our churches as well. People struggling with very serious issues and sometimes the level of rhetoric gets going in such a way that we can’t really tap into some of the things that we ought to be talking about. One of my favorite Psalms in this regard is Psalm 139. It’s wonderful, it’s incidentally a great airplane flight Psalm you know. You get in the morning and sit on the plane you say oh Lord if I were to take the wings of the morning and fly to the outermost parts of the sea that are there.
It’s like, ascend above or descend beneath. I’m still in your presence. You know it’s a great Psalm. And then he knows all of our thoughts. Then there comes a point where the Psalmist says, Lord I hate your enemies with a perfect hatred and there’s an arrogance there. God you and I are on the same side, you can count on me. And then I think at that point the Psalmist says oops, and then the next line goes like this. Search me oh Lord and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. That sense of humility before the face of God. [speaks foreign language], before the face of God is so important for our lives. So that self critique I think is a crucial aspect of it.
Then as Christians we have no reason to not want to do that. Lord, search me and know me and see if there’s any wicked way in me. If there’s something operating in me that really makes me angry with that person, that I oughta be aware of and that maybe I need some self-correction. But then secondly, how we see the other. In that, what John Calvin calls for. The contemplation of the humanity in the other. One of my favorite spiritual writing books is by Therese of Lisieux. L-I-S-I-E-U-X, many of you know about her.
She was a 15-year-old French girl, rather wealthy family, her sister had gone into a Carmelite convent. And she wanted to go too but she was too young and so she pestered the Bishop and he finally sent her to Rome and she actually met with the Pope and the Pope said oh okay, we’ll shut her up, put her in a convent. And that was good that she went in there because she didn’t last 10 years. She died before she was 30. But during that time she wrote a wonderful diary of the soul. It was called the diary of the soul, of a soul. And Therese of Lisieux was just passionately in love with Jesus and at a certain point in there she says, “Lord there’s a nun who manages to irritate me “whatever she does or says “and I know that the Devil is involved in this “because he wants to make me see “so many disagreeable traits in her. “But I didn’t wanna give away to my natural, “sinful dislike of her. ”
So I told myself Lord that charity should not only “be a matter of feeling but should show itself in deeds. “So I set myself out to do for this sister “just what I should’ve done for someone I love most dearly “and I prayed for her. “And I offered you all her virtues and her merits.” And then she says this. “I’m sure Jesus, that this would greatly delight you “because every artist likes to have his works praised “and the divine artist of souls is pleased “when we do not halt on the outside “but we enter the interior of the sanctuary “where your spirit dwells.”
To admire its beauty. God is a divine artist. He’s created human beings in his own image and even if they, they mar that work. Even if it’s a distorted version of it, the artist still loves it as something that he created for the good. So that’s contemplating the people with whom we disagree with. With whom we disagree is something I guard appreciation. And my wife is an art historian, and our son says that that means that his father has sat on the steps of some of the great art museums of the world. [audience laughs]
I actually went into the Mauritshuis recently with my wife and saw the “Girl with the Pearl Earring” and things like that. I get a lot of that. But there’s a lot of it. When we go from 19th to 20th Century especially that she understands that I just don’t get. And I gotta work at it. And I’m gonna say there is some people who have a kind of almost unnatural loving disposition but there are some of us who don’t quite get it and we have to work at it.
We have to develop the, the sensitivities and the discernment of the kind of art appreciation and that applies to our relationship with other human beings as well. That we not linger on the surface. We try to enter into the sanctuary that God created for fellowship with him and even though people have cut off that fellowship, that divine image that has to be honored is something that we need to take with great seriousness. A couple of other things about this and then we’ll open it up for a time to talk about it together. But it has a lot to do, we’re talking here really about identity formation. About who we are. This isn’t just a hobby that we can get into.
I’m gonna try to get into a little bit of civility you know. I think the Scriptures, Jeremiah 29, Psalm 139, 1 Peter, it makes it clear. This is at the heart of who we are. And that honoring of other human beings along with the [speaks foreign language] of the church, of the Christian community and they both go together. So I had the privilege three years ago of going to North Korea. I went with Don Chang. Don Chang, if any of you have teenage daughters or granddaughters, Don Chang is the owner and founder of Forever 21. And he’s made a lot of money out of that and he’s a very generous Christian businessperson, elder in his local Korean-speaking church. He’s a South Korean background with an American passport which is very relevant in this case. And he has a heart for North Korea and he heard that four villages in the northernmost part of North Korea had been devastated by landslides and floods.
And that little children were dying on a daily basis in these four villages and so he proposed to bring, to ship 4000 tons of food to those villages. And he arranged with the North Korean government to do it and they agreed to it but he insisted on two conditions. One is that he had to go and make sure that it was being distributed where he intended it to be distributed and secondly that every bag of flour, bag of corn, drum of oil had to have on it, a blue cross. He didn’t wanna be confused with the Red Cross.
He wanted a blue cross with the written in Korea, love your neighbor as yourself and they agreed. And some of us went with him. And we were driven 10 hours north of Pyongyang to these four villages. We got out of the car, driven by a government official. A Mercedes Benz, driven by a government official and women and children were waiting for us and they knew, had seen pictures of Don Chang but they treated us, the rest of us as sort a part of his group. And these women crying, just hold their little children up to us, this Korean woman holding this one-year-old boy. Encouraging the little boy to give me a hug with tears streaming down her face you know. And the North Korean government official said to me, “She’s crying because she sees you people “as having brought her life.”
And I long for the day when, women like that in those villages will hear the one who can say to them, I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly. But short of that, it was real life being brought there. And we were honoring them. Gently and reverently providing the means of life to people who were created in the image of God. It was a wonderful lesson for me. Went back to Pyongyang and the Sunday before we left we went to a church service.
There are four, we were told there are four legally approved church services in North Korea. This was an old Presbyterian Church building, it was built in the 30s. By Presbyterian missionaries and we went to a church service and there were Canadian and German diplomats there who told us they went to that service every week.
So it wasn’t a show they just put on for us. As we walked in the robed Korean choir was singing and we had the bilingual hymnbook so I could check out all the words. But they were singing Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left the crimson stain and he washed it white as snow with great passion. And the last hymn in the service was “What a Friend we have in Jesus” and one of the women in the choir, I’ll never forget her face, streaming, tears streaming down her face.
Singing, are we, we can heavy laden burden with a load of care you know. Jesus understands we have a friend in Jesus and I’ve gotta say those two women, the woman with the baby in that North Korean village and the woman in the choir have forever transformed my image in my mind of North Korea. When I read North Korea I don’t approve of the government at all. They do horrible things but I’ve got family there. I’ve got a sister in Jesus Christ who has a friend in Jesus and I’ve got a fellow human being a part of the human family with whom I share a humanity. She’s created in the image of God. I owe her honor and as I pray for North Korea I pray for those two women as symbolizing the [speaks foreign language] that we owe the church but the [speaks foreign language] that we owe the human community.
And it’s so important that we be agents of honor as well as agents of [speaks foreign language], of agape love in the world today because this is a part of, and within the Christian church it’s so important that we, that we emphasize that [speaks foreign language] because then we can translate that into the honor that we owe to all human beings. And that identity issue comes out so clearly in Revelation 5.
You know, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed men and women for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and you have made us a kingdom and priests on, we can’t do it on our own. Through the blood of Jesus Christ we’ve been given a new identity and we can experience that bond, that identity in Jesus Christ. We can then be freed up to extend something like that, maybe not quite agape but something like that to our fellow human beings who may not be saved through the blood of Christ but who are, are created in the image of the God who sent Jesus into the world.
It’s a part of our identity formation and the church needs to be doing that. We need to be promoting in our prayers, in the passages that we emphasize and are preaching in our, our studies of spiritual formation. Programs of spiritual formation, that sense of agape to the church and honor to the Lord, your human community. Is such an important part of what we need to be contributing to the shalom of the city in which the Lord God has placed us in this time of our exile. I wanna say too though that civility can be trumped. I mean it’s not all about civility and there are times, John Calvin you know. Do all the civility stuff but you may still have to go to war. And there are times that we you know, I’m not sure in Nazi Germany I would’ve spent a lot of time preaching civility toward Adolf Hitler.
And there are extreme, but I’m gonna say we have erred so much, many of us, certainly in the Evangelical world, we have erred so much on the side of incivility that we might maybe compensate a bit, even by running the risk of being too civil at times. I don’t think, I don’t think that’s a real risk for people like us of strong conviction. But it can be trumped.
And it can be trumped in denominations. You know one of the things that many of us are living with is not just people within our own congregations, within in our own academic Christian communities but we’re struggling with this in the larger church.
And I know there are tough issues there and there are issues that we need to be stating strong convictions but I think, I mean I just take, you know, probably the most controversial issue going. I’m conservative on the sexuality issue, same sex issues and the like. But you know I have to say this to my, my LGBT friends.
As an Evangelical Christian I’ve gotta say that in my movement and we have been inexcusably cruel to persons who struggle with same sex and other kinds of sexual temptation and with that kind of confessional sin, that kind of expression of repentance, that kind of admission of our own, our own weakness, we can begin talking about the healing power of the Gospel in ways that I don’t think people will listen to us if we come across as, as arrogant people who don’t remember our own past and so civility is not enough but it’s never irrelevant to be thinking about the kinds of issues that are associated with civility.
You know, emphasize spiritual formation is such an important part of it. I’m so pleased that the Biola Center is dealing with this as a, in terms of Christian virtues, Christian character formation. It’s so important to our lives as Christian educators but it’s also very important to the life of those churches to which graduates of programs here at Biola will be going. And coming from. So I want to encourage you in your ministries. When I first wrote my book back in the 90s and it had just been out for about three weeks, I got calls.
Two phone calls, one from a reporter at the New York Times, another from The Boston Globe. They hadn’t checked with each other and they hadn’t read my book but they were writing pieces on civility and incivility. Now when I wrote my book in the early 90s I was thinking a lot about the way in which religion’s a problem in the larger world. You know, I was thinking Middle East, Arab and Jew. Christian and Muslim. Northern Ireland at the time, you know Catholic and Protestants. Eastern Europe, Christian and Muslim. We’d been a real part of the problem in faith communities you know.
And so I wanted to address those global issues but these people were worried about parking lots and freeways. And I hadn’t really thought much, too much about that. You know what about incivility in, in the aisles of supermarkets? You know, the incivility in the very small places and so I said some very wise things about that. And when I rewrote my book I paid much more attention to that.
And I really like what I said and one day I was going to Vons supermarket and I went into a parking lot and I suddenly saw a parking place and I pulled into it. I tell this story at the end of the new version of my book but I pulled into the parking place and somebody started blowing a horn at me and yelling and you know, and I turn around and I realized that there was a woman driving a car who had been waiting for that parking place and I’d taken it. And I decided I should back out but she immediately just, just burned rubber and screeched off.
So I got out of the car and I watched where she went and she found a parking place way on the other side of the lot. So I went over to her and she was just getting out of the car and I said, “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. “I’m the guy that took that parking place. “I didn’t mean to do that. “I’m really sorry I did that. “You have a right to be very angry with me.” And she started crying she said, “Just don’t bother me.” She said, “If you knew the kind of day, “what I’m going through right now. “Just leave me alone.”
And she started to walk away. And I’m standing there and suddenly she turned around with tears streaming down her face, she said “Thank you.” And I felt so good about myself. You know. [audience laughs] I don’t just write books on this. I mean I actually do it in parking lots you know, it’s wonderful, wow. Two weeks later I had a rental car that I was returning to the Hertz lot at an airport and I was one minute before the deadline where I’d have to pay quite a bit for the extra hour. You know how that goes. And I got there in time. And I was waiting and the guy who was checking people in was talking to a rather attractive young woman in the car ahead of me and he just kept talking to her. And the minute was up.
And they were obviously flirting with each other and finally he comes back to me and he, he says oh you’re an hour late. I’m gonna have to charge you. I’m not late, I was here. You were flirting with that woman, it’s not my fault. He said, “I’m sorry sir I gotta go by you know, “what’s on the screen here. “I just can’t.” I said, “Well I’m sorry I’m not gonna pay it.” He says, “You gotta pay it.” And I said I’m not gonna approve, he said, “You’ve gotta approve.” I said, “Look,” you know and I started yelling at him. His supervisor walked up, a middle-aged African American woman walked up and she said, “What’s going on?” He said, “This guy doesn’t wanna pay.” I said, “Of course I don’t wanna pay. “He was flirting with the woman, I was here on time. “And he delayed and it’s not his fault.” And she says, “Just hold off okay.”
She said to the young man, “You go off, I’ll take care of this.” She said, “What happened?” I said, “Well he was talking to this woman. “I got here early but my time went out “because he went overboard in talking to this woman.” She says, “Okay, you don’t have to pay.” I said, “I know I don’t have to pay. “Don’t act like you’re doing me some big favor.” [audience laughs] I said, “I was here on time.” She said, “Honey you need a hug.” [audience laughs] And she hugged me. And I started to cry. And I said thank you. Civility sometimes starts in parking lots. Thank you all, God bless you, thank you. [audience applauds]
All right well we will have some time for some question and answer and while you’re thinking of your question, please wait for the microphone ’cause this is on tape. But you would do us a huge favor if you would fill out this little survey while we’re doing Q&A so that would be really good. Right here.
Man: Yeah thank you for sharing. Have you learned any tips or tricks for lack of a better term, pithy sayings or just clever arguments in your interviews with people about like same gender issues for instance where you know, some people will try to just put you in a trap and attack you. And so to, what are some things that you’ve learned in live interviews you know, writing is different. You know interviews is a different story.
Yeah thank you. I guess, I have tried very hard to admit that my own movement, I’m usually identified as speaking for Evangelicalism and I just try really hard to admit that we haven’t always handled these things very well. That we’ve often embarrassed ourselves in public life. But after all, we do have these convictions and I think that there are ways that, it’s largely what kind of spirit do we exhibit on this and that’s why I keep saying I think it’s a spiritual thing and I don’t always do it well but I do think we need to show a spirit of self-criticism, maybe even a little bit of humor.
A graciousness and that won’t solve it all but we have to show that we’re willing to talk and it’s that can we talk kind of thing you know? I’m not here, probably not gonna win the arguments, their arguments but I do wanna give a reason for the hope that lies within me but to do so with gentleness and reverence you know. Thank you.
I should’ve mentioned, there’s another microphone over there that Nicole has but I have a question here.
Man: Doctor, pertaining to the topic in question, can you reconcile Calvin’s thought on just war theory with the ordering of the death of religious dissident in Geneva. That is to say, Servetus.
Yeah [laughs], yeah. Well my hero Abraham Kuyper, he, he insisted that those of us and, I’m a disciple of his. I’m also a disciple of Jesus Christ which is more important but I follow Kuyper on a lot of things and she said we should call ourselves Neocalvinists because there’s a lot of stuff that we need the neo in Calvinism in that Calvin made some big mistakes and we think that toward the end of his life he knew it but that was a bad one.
But he actually said some other things that stood in conflict with what he did with Servetus and so yeah. I mean I have no defense of John Calvin on that. He made, that was a big mistake.
Man: I have a question about culture war, seems to be kind of the dominant metaphor for the church engaging culture for the last 30 years or so in the mainstream. And it seemed like Biblically you have the world, the flesh and the Devil and the Bible doesn’t shy away from warfare terminology for two of those three right? The spiritual war in Ephesians 6 against the Devil, fight the flesh. Doesn’t use war terminology for the world so I’m curious if the last 30 years, cultural war has been a dominant metaphor, if you had it your way.
What would the new metaphor look like for the next 30 years?
Yeah thank you. No I mean there certainly is warfare imagery in the Scriptures. And incidentally, Jesus showed some incivility toward the Pharisees. I mean he called people wedded sepplicers, you’re kind of bordering on incivility there though I think Jesus typically reserved his harsh rhetoric for hypocritical leaders and not the woman at the well or the you know, the Gentile you know kind of thing.
Yeah, I think it’s simply to recognize the limits and the dangers of the warfare imagery if that’s the only kind that we use. G. K. Chesterton said worshiping false gods is a horrible thing but setting up false demons is also a horrible thing you know? And so the demonization of people who aren’t demons is very important. And our warfare is with the Devil. You know as C.S. Lewis said in that wonderful learning and wartime speech that he gave when you know, British young people were being killed in the, and he said. You know how can we, people ask how can we you know, carry on education when the lives of soldiers are at stake and all the rest and he said, you know, it’s constant warfare.
And it’s a cosmic battle that’s constantly going on but the weapons you know. I keep thinking, I remember being in a congregation where the pastor was very warfare oriented and you know, we gotta fight the enemy. And then we sang, tis not with swords, loud clashings, nor roll of stirring drums but deeds of love and mercy that the heavenly kingdom comes and sometimes in the Scriptures you get a kind of, almost a reversal of the imagery being used. We’re in a battle and deeds of love and mercy are the weapons that we use and I guess I do a little more of emphasize, I wouldn’t deny the warfare imagery.
But as John Howard Yoder, the great Mennonite theologian talked about the war of the lamb, how did the lamb win? He went gently you know and humbly to the cross on our behalf you know. He could’ve called down legions of angels but and so, the way of Jesus, the way of the cross I think is an important supplementary and even counterimage there but I would emphasize that the weapons of our warfare are very different than the harsh condemnatory attacking kinds of things that we’ve often limited ourselves through, thanks.
Man: When I came I thought, when it says the local church right there I thought maybe you were going to address contention within the, not only the local church but the church in general. Especially with the internet. You’ve talked a lot about church and outside the church.
How do you address, well my experience has been that probably the most vicious attacks I’ve ever received have been inside the church rather than with secular. I’m a retired public school teacher and I’d like to address that issue.
Yeah, thank you. I mean you people know more about that than I do. I’ll retreat to my ivory tower on this one. No it’s, I do think that this is why I wanna emphasize the importance of spiritual formation in the local church.
You know, I mean I lectured at Duke Divinity School and a guy came up to me and said you know, I was in business world and the Lord called me into ministry so I went to Duke Divinity School and now I’m a Methodist pastor. He said, “For five years now the biggest topic “in my church between two groups of women, “one of whom wanna put flowers “on the communion table and others who are against it.” And he said, “I just can’t stop the battle on this.” Well I think that’s an interesting case study to think about, what would you do on that? And I’m not sure I would preach a sermon defending flowers on the. You know, one way or the other. But there has to be ways in which you can get beyond that.
And part of it would be just to bring that together and say what is it about flowers on a communion table that bother you so much? Okay what is it about having flowers on that communion you know, and can you at least try to understand the depth of the passion of this? I think that on a lot of other issues, once we get beyond the surface, I gave a talk once on you know defending the, what I take to be the traditional Biblical view on same sex matters and a couple came up to me and they said, “Thank you for standing up for the truth. “We are so disgusted with our own denomination “and we really appreciate that.” And all the rest of it. And we sat down and had some coffee together after the service.
And I just felt, I felt the need to say something else to them. So I said yeah, you know, I’m glad that you appreciate you know, my views on this. But you know, we haven’t done a good job of pastoral relations with people who struggle with these issues and I wish we could do better on that. And something happened between them, they looked at each other and it was like they made a decision and she started crying.
And she said, “Thanks for saying that.” A total different change. She said, “Our son is gay. “And he has a partner and they’re committed to each other. “And we’ve told them we wanted them both “to come home for Christmas. “We’ve been alienated for them but we asked them “and they’re not following the Lord “and they’re living in this same sex relationship. “But they agreed to go to church with us “on Christmas Eve.” And then she just started bawling and she said “On the way home, “my son said to me, “‘Mom I’m so glad we were there tonight.'”
And tapping into something deeper that beyond the rhetoric. I don’t know there was just something about that moment for me that I found very touching that on one level they had very strong convictions, they were saying but as soon as you poked into something there, they were willing to talk about a very different kind of struggle that they were having. And I just think we need to be patient with people.
We need to try to tap into some of the deeper, I mean I don’t wanna psychologize everything either but we’ve gotta tap into some of the deeper struggles and the deeper issues because there’s something about five years of fighting about flowers on the communion table where it says do this in remembrance of me. You know in big letters. There’s something about that battle that isn’t simply about flowers on the communion table and I have a sense that pastoral sensitivities need to address that.
We need to find ways of doing it. There are a lot of other issues obviously but there are issues that often have us kind of symbolic. That beneath the surface there are other things going on there and that we need to learn to deal with.
Man: I’m wondering if you have any, any guidance about dealing with conflict in a civil way when the people in the conflict are sort of, sort of different levels of authority. When it’s a leader and someone.
Who’s under their authority.
Yeah, this shows up in a lot of different ways. I had been at a meeting of, I belong to mental part. I belong to Bel Air Presbyterian Church. And we’re a very Evangelical congregation and I had, I was at a conference of denominational leaders where I had the Evangelical voice. I got treated with great respect you know. People listened to me.
Phyllis and I were in the airport afterward and we met a Fuller grad who, she’s an associate pastor at a Presbyterian church and I said, you know we had a little time. How are you doing, good to see you. And she said fine. And I said, “How’s your ministry going?” And she said, “Dr., I just wanna quit.” She said, “Not because of my local church “but I just went to a Presbyterian meeting “and we were debating issues of sexuality “and I just felt like the Lord wanted me. “I’ve never spoken before,” she said. “But I just felt the Lord wanted me “to just give witness to my own understanding “of what the word of God has to say on this. “And the next speaker stood up “and likened me to a Nazi.” She said, “I never wanna go back there you know?”
And I’m thinking, yeah I can you know, people treat me with respect. I represent the you know, largest multidenominational seminary in the world, we’re training more Presbyterians than most of the other Presbyterian, most of the official Presbyterian seminary and I get treated with great respect but she’s in a different level of authority, gets treated very differently and when her church ultimately decided to pull out of the denomination, I thought I don’t think they had any other choice you know?
If they wanna maintain a connectionalism and that’s what they run into. So and then when it’s, when it’s an actual debate between a denominational state and clerk and a deacon in a local church or the head of the Women’s Society or something like that, these are tough situations. But what I then sense is that my goal isn’t just to get along with people with whom I disagree on that level but I’ve gotta represent her in a sense and try to improve the rhetorical situation in the church and defend her when she leaves you know?
Because people say well you Evangelicals, you’re trying to split the church. Well let me tell you about a student of mine, and how she got treated in a Presbyterian meeting. I don’t blame her for advocating that her church should join one of the newer, more conservative configurations you know. So that I then have the obligation to represent that voice, to give voice to her concerns and I think that should be true for all of us that are sitting here. We have a level of authority and influence and power that means that we need to take up the cause.
And frankly, one reason I told the story about that couple that had the gay son is I want you to know there are people like that in your congregation you know? And that the harsh rhetoric that’s often used about those folks, sometimes there are people there who even though they may not let you know it, you’re talking about their kids. Whom they love. [upbeat music]