Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Price of Nice

I've long been a fan of the careful thinking of Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California.  He quotes a line from the Lutheran church historian Martin Marty, said some years ago:

People these days who are civil often lack strong convictions, and people with strong religious convictions often are not very civil.  What we need is convicted civility. 

Having passed through the most recent lessons in political incivility it's easy to cite the evidence.  But Marty's quote explains more than the yuck factor of the recent elections. It names a dynamic that operates just below the surface in many Christian congregations.  The fear of being thought "uncivil" stifles a lot creative disagreement and discussion that church needs to move forward. Most of us can cite a meeting where some fellow Christian "lost it" and said things they would come to regret later.  But fearing that mistake we often limit ourselves to ideas and commitments that can't be thought of as anything but nice. We're stuck. We are so afraid somebody is going to say "something".  On the other hand we are terribly afraid that somebody won't.

As we have hosted Christian-Muslim discussions in our congregation over the past few weeks I have felt the dynamic at work.  There are those who are afraid that in the name of civility we will ask and say nothing of consequence. We'll never really talk about what scares us. And then there are those who fear above all else that we will appear intolerant.

Can we practice convicted civility or are the only options weightless convictions and shouting matches?  It seems to me that one thing Christians could offer their communities is a way to talk about what matters that veers off neither cliff.  That is, if we will learn to do it ourselves.



Gene said...

Excellent scratching Mike! If we can each learn to value other people as much as ourselves, learn to be firm in our opinions yet not be oppressive to the thoughts of others, learn to express correctness in a way that may not always be "politically correct" we may find a way to really communicate and address the real issues of our faith and our country.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I can understand the delima of not wanting to appear to be unreasonable or insensitive to our peers by asking questions that might, to one person, seem offensive, but to another necessary. The reality to me is that unless these questions are asked....we stand a chance of remaining in potential ignorance. Is it worse to just remain in ignorance but tollerable to others and our peers or maybe appear to seem intollerable but for the sacrifice of asking a tough question pull some out of ignorance? It has been my observation that the more questions we can ask....the more we learn. To not ask what,to us, might seem like a tough question robs the receiver of the question a just opportunity to give a truthful and honest answer. That is probably, I think, just as much a dis-service to us (by not knowing or hearing an answer) as it is to the person needing to express an honest answer.
In this sense we prohibit ourselves from progressing to higher levels of understanding until we ask all the tough questions that everyone might be basing their beliefs on.

MSB said...

It helps if people study up on the subject that will be discussed either in Sunday school or in the sermon.

Steve Finnell said...

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Marvin Martian said...

I completely agree with you. The entire Korean culture is "nice" in just the way you have described it.

Cool to meditate on: Convicted civility. I've always been high on conviction and low on civility. Now in Korea, I'm constantly torn between the two. Pray that I can, by God's grace, put them together.

Hope your interfaith discussions go well.

PS I ran into this sort of thing when I was at Fuller, with Mouw as president, when I was in class. There were certain things that I said in class that I was "shamed" for bringing up. Interesting, huh.

David said...