Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
When I told my parents I was going to double major in Religion and Political Science, my mother sighed and said, "But you will never be able to talk to anybody." As I began to build my opinions on both I discovered what she meant. Frequently the topics of politics or religion work like dynamite. There is an "uh oh" moment at the start and then the anticipation that something will blow up. Yet, these are not the only topics that perform explosive results. Any time our convictions run into an opposing view the option to flip over the table in a huff is a possibility.
When someone drops a racial slur into the conversation, or knowingly belittles a friend, or arbitrarily painting a group or community as villains or worthless; a very dark side of my personality comes to life. Their opinion, intended or not, offends me. Throughout these conversations, something happens that I am sure everybody can relate to when faced with strong disagreements: I feel myself beginning to question each person's integrity, character and motives. And there it is: I know I am right! Under a very thin layer of Minnesota politeness, I boiled with indignation at their comments. The urge to tell everyone I see that these folks are dingbats becomes very tempting.
I wish I could tell you that clergy are above these small and petty feelings. I wish I could tell you that Christians don't act like this, and especially not in Church. Our convictions can lead to hot tempers infused with aggressive and careless words. How then can we keep our convictions and remain civil? A Lutheran scholar, Martin Marty has observed that people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, and people who have strong convictions often lack civility. This means that you can compromise truth for the sake of being civil, or you can compromise truth by your lack of civility... by being right in all the wrong ways. I've been found on both sides of this fence and neither is admirable or Christ-like.
What then is our example? Jesus got angry at times. He flipped over the tables in the Temple in Jerusalem and called out the religious leaders of His time as "a brood of vipers" and "hypocrites." Jesus experienced the full spectrum of human emotion but we need to keep reading. Jesus welcomed everyone to the table, yet His inclusivity never compromised His call for people to trust in Him. Jesus affirmed their value while not condoning anything that did not align with the divine plan. Jesus loves us while we are yet in sin. Whether we are in a state of grace or disgrace God loves us the same.
I think the image of Jesus at the Temple is a useful image but not the one where he is flipping over tables. When Jesus was about 12, He was found teaching in the Temple. He was engaging those with whom he disagreed by listening, talking and settling in for a long conversation. (Before his folks yanked Him out)
I think this example could be very helpful for our conviction-filled conversations. It doesn't take the form of self explosion or private anger. Neither does it gossip and spread wild exaggerations. Civil and conviction-filled conversations would be helpful corrective for those of us, including me, who tend to be right in all the wrong ways. Truth matters, but so does the way we communicate it. When someone is "wrong," it doesn't change their intrinsic value. Remembering one's worth as a person, someone Jesus refuses to live without, should challenge the way we disagree with them. Yet, this doesn't justify obnoxious and erroneous ways or opinions.
This is a real new year's resolution, especially, in an election year.