just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Constructive Dialogue...

I came across this blog post by Jim Wallis yesterday and this one by Brian McLaren that preceded it. I am thinking about the need for Christians to enter into dialogue with those who see things differently. I am thinking about the tone we use when engaging those who use different words and a different configuration of values when talking about Christian faith.

I am cautiously hopeful that the ferment afoot in the evangelical Christian community represents a real shift taking place in the theological moorings of the movement. The ways the Gospel of the Kingdom speaks to human issues is being expanded to encompass both personal and social dimensions, both future and present realities, both spiritual and material issues.

One of the things I have deeply appreciated about Brian McLaren is his irenic spirit--a graciousness, a Christ-like humility that enables him to engage even his antagonists with kind, respectful words and tone. He has been a mentor for me in this way. How do we avoid polemical language and harsh tone as we engage the positions of those who see things differently than we do? How can we avoid attempting to sway the tide of public opinion (or those within the evangelical community) by means of attack and name-calling.

I think it begins by treating those with whom we disagree respectfully. I hope that James Dobson responds to the invitation of Brian McLaren to engage in constructive debate, face to face. It is necessary to bring our differences into the context of face to face dialogue--especially in the community of Christ. I pray that Dr. Dobson is open to consider that those who see creation care, poverty, and peacebuilding efforts as moral issues along with abortion, integrity of marriage, and teaching children sexual abstinence are not expressing a counter-message.

Dr. Dobson has attacked and called for the resignation of Rich Cizik, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, because he is broadening the scope of issues to which the Christian message must be applied (i.e. global warming). I would hope that this tact would be set aside and a constructive dialogue might take place in the evangelical Christian community. A constructive debate on what are the great moral issues for (evangelical) Christians?

Without a constructive approach to dialogue we miss the opportunity to engage "the other" as a valued person, who is speaking and acting with honorable motives (albeit many times with different assumptions). Without a commitment to constructive dialogue in the community (of Christ and the human community) we often see relationship damaged through language that comes from a posture/position of superiority (moral high ground). Often there is an attempt to exclude those who see things differently, either through polemical rhetoric ("if you don't see things the way we do...you are against us--the enemy") or divisive actions. We see this played out in many different ways.

At SMC, the January/February issue of the Missional Compass included a story of healing by Leon Miller. The language and perspectives that were represented in his story raised questions for some (many?) within our Mennonite community. What will we do with those questions? How can we engage in constructive dialogue in a spirit of humility, mutual respect, and Christian love?

The recent vote in Lancaster Mennonite Conference expresses that there are clearly diverse perspectives present in our community on the question of the ordination of women. How will these tensions be handled? How will we nurture a constructive dialogue? How will we avoid the pitfalls of using political leverage, passive aggresive patterns, name-calling (if not voiced, perhaps in the form of judgements we make in our mind) and other means to bring about the desired end we believe is right and true?

The Mennonite/Orthodox dialogue that took place on Saturday, I believe, represents a healthy expression of constructive dialogue. Face to face. Acknowledging differences. Mutually respectful. Considering issues and questions in the context of relationship.

O God, you have bound us together in a common life.
Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth,
to confront one another without hatred or bitterness,
and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(from the Book of Common Prayer)

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