In the disputes dogging North American Christianity in the 21st century, it appears to me that the damage done by the warring traditionalists and progressives has almost nothing to do with the perceived differences in their views. Rather, these arguments are doing a much greater harm through a posture they both share and an aim they both seek to advance. The posture is conviction and the aim is the taking of a stand on that conviction.
I go to lots of meetings with folks who appear all too eager for an opportunity to exhibit their knowledge of controversial issues and who annotate their contributions with footnotes from the New York Times. Many of them seem animated by a need to prove to themselves that they’re on the “right” (read: left) side of gun control and marriage equality by gathering on the second Wednesday of every month with like-minded liberals over coffee and cookies. The making of statements is the paramount public action.
At the same time, I’m watching evangelicals flee my denomination out of a conviction that it has abandoned the Bible in its ordaining of gays and lesbians. They, too, wish to make their convictions known and to be observed taking a stand.
Traditional liberal stands are taken on behalf of the poor and marginalized. Traditional conservative stands are taken for the Bible and religious or cultural norms. Different as their objects may be, though, the impulse of the stand-takers is getting harder and harder for me to tell apart.
When did taking a stand become equivalent to faithfulness? When did conviction get crowned king among the virtues? What ever happened to discernment?
By “discernment” I mean the humble and prayerful searching out of the best way.
By “searching out” I mean studying your Bible and your monthly magazine subscriptions in like proportion to cultivating civil conversations with people who study their Bibles but who subscribe to different monthlies, people who may actually be gay and who may actually own a gun. And no, Facebook doesn’t count.
By “the best way” I mean the most Biblical way. That is, the way that most vividly embodies the most prominent principles and values laid out in the Biblical narrative: honesty, compassion, fidelity, justice, and many others.
By “the best way” I mean the most lovely way, the way whose path leads toward more charity and courage in the world.
By “the best way” I mean the Godly way, pursued through prayer, worship, and service with a community with whom one is covenanted.
By “the best way” I do not mean the most secure way, the most safe way, the most poll-tested way, or the way best articulated by Mother Jones or a three point sermon.
Here’s an earnest question for you, dear reader: Where do you see people practicing discernment together? Where are the examples of people not taking public stands but publicly committing to working out contentious questions together?
Let’s hear some. Please.
9 thoughts on “I Don’t Care About Your Conviction”
Thanks for your thoughts on this, Rocky. I miss mulling these things over with you….
Toby! I miss Toby!
“Traditional liberal stands are taken on behalf of the poor and marginalized. Traditional conservative stands are taken for the Bible and religious or cultural norms.”
Do you see an asymmetry here? What you call the trad lib sounds pretty darn biblical to me. But you give the trad cons credit for standing for the Bible? The conservative ‘norms’ and the wishlist of the rich and privileged are quite nicely aligned, and that makes for a difficult conversation, in my experience. I don’t have much optimism for patching this up.
Great conversation starter, Rocky!
That asymmetry occurs to me, but I’m pretty sure conservatives would challenge my own characterization of both sides of it. Steverino is terrific, though, and he should comment here always
I wonder if it’s better to identify the object of liberal stances as virtues like equality and personal liberty. What do you think?
Liberal is probably a useless term. Those of us who disclaim Conservative labels seem to think about ambiguity and paradox without having to simplify the complex. The Prepubicans have great stress induced whenever they have to think beyond “either-or” or “black-white” dichotomies. I think there is no hope of the two types ever communicating meaningfully. The paranoid stance of fear-based thinkers will not be able to open up to abstract conceptual thinking or complexities the so-called liberals assume to be basic. Those attached to wishful thinking and vague possibilities, such as “love” for humanity, will not be able to persuade the so-called conservatives to abandon their beloved fears and prejudices.
Glad for your comment, Chris. So that’s two votes for “hopeeless”
Rocky, This is good stuff. Dialogue is of the essence and there isn’t much essence these days. Martin Buber and Bohm would be proud of you and your endeavor. I used to think Christianity ended in the 4th Century, when Constantine demanded conformity to the creeds. But, maybe it has a chance again, as the polarities dissolve and the variety of Christian polemicists begin to realize we don’t know much at all about anything. The Celts had it right, but no one could develop a hierarchy with the subjectivity of Celtic Christianity, which drove it underground. With Centering Prayer and the rise of people claiming to be spiritual, maybe we’ll begin to consider the “teachings” of the Christ and give them a real heartfelt try, instead of believing everything we think. I’m not hopeless about where Grace is taking the Church. The only people I can’t talk to are biblical literalists. When I ask them about the Nag Hammadi texts, they seem to glaze over and quit talking to me. But, I think reading Cynthia Bourgeault, et al., will soften the resistance to moving toward the Christlike lives we’re offered. Here’s to you! Chris
PS: One I heard yesterday, that I liked: When Solomon was young, he wrote the Song of Solomon. When he was middle aged, he wrote his Psalms. But, when he got old, he wrote Ecclesiastes. Pretty good.
Pretty good indeed.